The mission of our annual ZEITGUIDE—which distills how forces such as technology, globalization and consumer behaviors are shaping culture—is to provide all you need to know to face the year ahead.
Of course, it’s a book. Not a crystal ball. The unexpected happens. Whether it’s an upset in a presidential election or Brexit, events beyond our control—sometimes beyond imagining—can lay waste to well-honed strategies. But amid the angst and uncertainty, such events are also the breeding ground for new understanding and new opportunities. But only for those prepared to learn and take action.
The developments described in the pages ahead are nearly all things that leave us excited and optimistic. Major technological shifts will transform our businesses, homes and communities. Every industry is innovating as legacy players and new upstarts battle for relevance. Workplaces are trying to take steps toward true inclusion and diversity. Individuals are focusing on personal wellness and fulfillment.
In this, our fifth annual compendium, we hand you a survival kit supplied with context and insight. We hope it empowers you to look forward, knowing you can stay grounded when the big shocks arrive.
Creator, Founder & CEO, ZEITGUIDE
We heard plenty of politicians promise to jumpstart job growth in 2016. Good luck with that, says economist Marc Levinson in his new book, “An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Post-war Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy.”
Levinson writes that Americans need to get used to a less buoyant economy: “The extraordinary experience of the Golden Age (1945 through the early 1970s) left us with the unfortunate legacy of unrealistic expectations about our government’s ability to deliver jobs, pay raises and steady growth.”
Historically, most economies see incomes increase slowly and living standards rise a just a bit at a time. But post-recession, the U.S. has seen the worst salary recovery among the G-20 nations. According to a study by Korn Ferry, when adjusted for inflation, since 2008 U.S. salaries have fallen 3.1%, and 14.8% in entry-level jobs.
Whether the economy can be made “great” again remains to be seen. After all, it’s not just wage stagnation, but a whole host of other economic anxieties: Growing income inequality. Gigs instead of full-time employment. Workplace automation. The decline in manufacturing and rise of globalization.
“The surprising events of Brexit and now Trump are a clear signal that many people feel stuck or forgotten,” ZEITGUIDE friend Scott Grossman, a senior portfolio manager at Magnetar Capital, told us. “The challenge? How do we ensure society at large benefits from the accelerating wave of global innovation that seems to go against the grain of rising populist agendas?”
BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) used to be high-growth, but Brazil’s devastating recession continues and Russia is still slammed with international sanctions and collapsed oil prices. So what’s up with the I and the C? And where are the new places for economic optimism?
China’s 6.7% annual growth rate is its lowest in 25 years. Its debt- to-GDP ratio is now 260%—and banks are seeing 5.5% of their loans going bad. Optimistic financial analysts think China’s government will seize the reins (as it has done in the past to prevent the stock market from crashing). Others, including James Chanos, “the guy who called Enron,” see too much capital flowing out of the PRC. “I don’t think China is going to be in smoking ruins tomorrow; I just think there’s going to be ongoing economic deceleration–a finger in the dike here, a crisis over there…while it struggles with the debt.”
For many Western-first companies, it’s a tough nut to crack: government regulations are staunchly protectionist, and local competitors have home field advantage. Who’s more aggressive than Uber, after all? And Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sold Uber China after enduring a bloody battle with China’s ride-hailing service, Didi Chuxing.
“When you go to China, you have to rethink how you’re doing everything,” says Kalanick. “You have to become Chinese.”
At 7.1% growth, India is the world’s fastest growing major economy right now, and it’ll be the world’s most populous nation by 2022. As in China, much of its consumer spending will be done on mobile phones. Joshua Lu, a leader for Asia Consumer Research for Goldman Sachs, predicts that India is on track to have the second largest mobile market in the world, bigger than the United States’. It also has about 400 million people preparing to enter the workforce.
Hoping to capitalize, Amazon, Apple, Google and Uber are setting up their second largest development centers outside the U.S. in Hyderabad. But India is still being held back by the usual suspects: poor infrastructure and excessive regulation. In 2016, India ranked 130 out of 189 on the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” report. Amazon India, for instance, is required to sell mostly other merchants’ goods rather than its own.
And poverty and weak urbanization continue to hold back consumption. India has more 260 million in poverty, more than any other country. It’s also still a largely rural country, with 850 million out of its population of 1.2 billion living in the countryside.
Vietnam and Myanmar were economic superstars in 2016, with 7% growth. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam reached $11.3 billion in the first half of 2016, up by 105% from the same period in 2015. Why? With wages rising in China, manufacturers use Vietnam as their substitute in the production process, while remaining close to China’s supply chain.
After implementing political reforms, Myanmar now qualifies as an emerging retail market, especially with international luxury brands. Catering to a growing middle class and émigré population, these brands are buying up space in Myanmar’s new shopping malls.
Uber has devastated the taxi industry. Airbnb threatens hotel and real estate companies. Amazon has retailers like Walmart on the ropes and the media business worried.This pattern goes beyond mere digital disruption. It’s a complete shift in business models.Under the platform model, a company creates a marketplace— usually a digital one—that connects producers or providers to consumers. An obvious example is the Uber app, which links riders to drivers. But the iPhone itself is also a platform—providing a device and market for independently developed apps and games that are purchased by iPhone owners.
How do platforms profit? In multiple ways: They take a cut from the transaction (like Apple’s 30% on apps). They add fees (like Airbnb’s 6-12% guest service fee). They charge for a particular type of access to the platform (as LinkedIn does with job recruiters) or they charge a subscription fee for enhanced curation of the platform’s users and content.
This powerful new business model—the platform—has built-in advantages that let a new entrant in an industry trounce a competitor that merely makes and sells products through the traditional pipeline business model. ZEITGUIDE friend Marshall Van Alstyne, a business professor at Boston U. and co-author of “Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Trans- forming the Economy and How to Make Them Work for You,” outlined three reasons for us:
“First, their marginal costs approach zero, so they scale much faster. Airbnb and Uber began in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but they now have bigger market caps than Marriott and BMW, which launched in 1927 and 1916.
“Second, platforms innovate faster by relying on ecosystem partners for external resources. Apple and Google [mobile phones] developed far more value-added than Black- berry, Nokia and LG by harnessing ecosystems.
“Third, platforms are protected by network effects. When users create value for other users, the value proposition scales with use, which creates buyer stickiness.”
On top of all that, platforms often collect data on their users and rely on those insights to refine or customize their service.
Some traditional pipeline companies are responding by integrating platforms into their business. GE launched the Predix platform, where internal and external software developers create apps that monitor industrial machinery such as oil-field rigs and wind turbines. In 2012, John Deere introduced MyJohnDeere, a platform for apps and data management related to its agricultural and construction equipment (which has also ignited an important debate on who owns the application when a customer buys the product).
ZEITGUIDE friend Geoff Walker, EVP & Chief Strategic Technology Officer at Mattel (a traditional pipeline company), understands that this is the future, “but with so many moving parts and traditional systems this transformation will take a long time.”
However, platforms will continue to shape the future of business strategy. As the “Platform Revolution” authors warned in the Harvard Business Review: “For pipeline firms, the writing is on the wall: Learn the new rules of strategy for a platform world, or begin planning your exit.”
AI … Machine learning … Cognitive computing?
Whatever you choose to call it, each term is getting at more or less the same thing: The growing ability for machines to learn and think on their own.
New data-processing techniques, more data available via the internet and more powerful hardware have made AI capable of performing complex tasks such as speech recognition and image classification. In fact, the current $8 billion market for AI-related devices, software and services is expected to grow to $47 billion by 2020, according to research firm IDC.
“The dream is finally arriving,” Bill Gates said at the 2016 Code Conference.
Which dream, exactly? Perhaps we can glean a hint from Pedro Domingos’ “The Master Algorithm,” which Gates cites as a favorite book on AI. “If it exists,” writes Domingos, “the Master Algorithm can derive all knowledge in the world—past, present and future—from data. Inventing it would be one of the greatest advances in the history of science.”
Short of that godlike ability, AI is already fundamentally transforming the way business is conducted. IBM has invested billions in its cognitive computing platform, first focusing Watson’s data-crunching power on healthcare. In a test conducted on 1,000 cancer patients, for example, Watson offered diagnoses as accurately as the human oncologists—and then recommended treatments human doctors may not have known about.
For years, companies have collected vast amounts of data on customers and the performance of their assets. Now, AI is putting this trove of information to work.
There are, however, two fairly immediate concerns—beyond any future “Matrix”-style doomsday scenario—with AI. First, many in the workforce could stand to lose their jobs as a result of this data collection. Driving, for example, is the largest source of employment for men in the United States. Automate the vehicles, and there go potentially millions of jobs.
The second issue is that companies developing AI, like most of Silicon Valley, have a predominantly male workforce of engineers and developers. As Melinda Gates observed, “When I graduated, 34% of undergraduates in computer science were women … we’re now down to 17%.”
As artificial intelligence gets embedded into day-to-day activities—predicting what we need from virtual assistants, teachers, even doctors—is the technology neutrally scrubbing out gender biases, or as our CEO Brad Grossman published in the WSJ, is it encoding them permanently on our future?
You may have heard of blockchain in relation to Bitcoin—the digital currency that is not controlled by any central bank. At a time when banks have lost public trust, blockchain stands to impact more than just finance. It is going to impact almost everything.
As The Harvard Business Review defines it: “At its most basic, blockchain is a vast, global distributed ledger or database running on millions of devices and open to anyone, where not just information but anything of value–money, titles, deeds, music, art, scientific discoveries, intellectual property, and even votes–can be moved and stored securely and privately.”
Transfers recorded in a blockchain are especially reliable, we read, because “trust is established, not by powerful intermediaries like banks, governments and technology companies, but through mass collaboration and clever code. Blockchains ensure integrity and trust among strangers. They make it difficult to cheat.”
This may at last enable the internet to become what its creators envisioned: an unencumbered exchange.
Other examples of blockchain in action include: a virtual notary public that stores contracts; Brooklyn’s TransActive Grid that allows homeowners to buy and sell solar power; secure digital healthcare records; and a censor-resistant version of Twitter, dubbed Twister.
Eventually companies may extend the reach of blockchain to track intellectual property (like music); record payments for sharing-economy platforms; handle data generated by the Internet of Things; and “store” or sell physical objects rendered as 3D printing data.
We’re still in the early days, but some believe this transformation could spell the end for digital middlemen. “The business models of the future will be software protocols, developed, governed and owned by the communities they support,” explains California bitcoin entrepreneur Fred Ehrsam in the Wall Street Journal. “We’ll get Twitter without the Twitter, Amazon without the Amazon, Uber without the Uber.”
In an effort to end the workplace disaster that is inbox overflow, companies are turning to collaboration tools like Slack, HipChat and Lua. This “Slackification,” as we at ZEITGUIDE call it, aims to bring the mechanisms of social media to the workplace to facilitate greater coordination and knowledge management in large, decentralized environments. These software tools create a living archive of shared communication, and also provide a way to track emerging ideas and conversations.
A younger employee with a particularly insightful response to an executive’s email can get an overwhelming number of reactions on a Slack work channel, in the same way that a post can go viral on Facebook or Twitter. Not only can this encourage employees to feel heard, benefiting morale and retention, but it also enables new ideas to trickle up to higher levels of the company.
Competitors are coming. Facebook rolled out Facebook at Work, a tool powered by an algorithm similar to what controls your personal feed, allowing staff to keep abreast of conversations going on in their company. That said, we heard one of our friends comment offhand about the service, “I don’t want the place where I talk to my clients to be the same place where I talk to my grandmother.”
Another Slack-like tool, Yammer, which Microsoft shelled out $1.2 billion for in 2012, will be fully embedded in Microsoft Office 365 in 2017.
Not ready to abandon your inbox? Try sending longer emails. By crafting more thorough messages, we reduce the need for inbox-clogging back and forth.
But length on its own does not mean clarity. ZEITGUIDE friend and author of “How to Write an Email,” Justin Kerr, gave his two-word advice for making your needs obvious: bullet points.
You might try Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s approach. Hsieh spends the first part of his morning going through every email he received the day before. Once he gets through his inbox this way, he moves on to other things for the rest of the day.
He’s an extreme “batcher,” according to ZEITGUIDE friend Jocelyn K. Glei, author of “Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done.” There are two types of emailers, she says: reactors, who nibble on their inbox all day, and batchers, who process email only during a few discrete focus blocks.
“Studies have shown that not only are batchers more productive, they’re also less stressed,” Glei told us. “What’s more, juggling email with other work has been shown to reduce your IQ by almost 10 points.”
Entrepreneurs exploit opportunities to disrupt markets. Now political entrepreneurs, as ZEITGUIDE friend and president of Longview Global Advisors DJ Peterson coins them, are disrupting the public sphere “by taking advantage of volatility, peddling new solutions (often from both the left and the right) and by breaking rules.” He published this idea even before Trump was elected to the presidency of the United States and pointed to the similarities of the “dramatic, anger-driven policy stances” of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and chief Brexiteer Nigel Farage. “In this environment, calls from establishment figures for pragmatism and staying the course (Vote Remain!) sound tired and suspect,” Peterson says. “Disruption brings new opportunities and risks, adding to the tremendous uncertainty the world faces in 2017.”
As the conversation about improving diversity and inclusion in corporate America drags into its fifth or so decade, ZEITGUIDE friend Beth Comstock, Vice Chair of GE, maintains there’s no excuse not to recruit diverse job candidates. “You have to set the standards and work hard enough to hire people who are different from you,” she says. “Flood the zone and keep looking until you find them.”
At ZEITGUIDE, we encourage all our clients to learn from other industries. Simon Mulcahy, interim CMO at Salesforce, suggests an exercise he calls “flipping the binoculars around,” which means turning your attention to things farther afield. The Harvard Business Review covers his example: If you’re a bank branch trying to increase customer loyalty, look at a company in a completely different industry, like Starbucks, and ask how it keeps customers coming back.
Companies are knocking down office walls and holding daylong brainstorming sessions as a means of manifesting innovation. But that tactic doesn’t work for everyone. Introverts speak less during meetings and need time alone to recharge. They also have to work harder to adapt to the corporate environment and to put more thought into what they do. To get the best out of these individuals, The Economist wrote, companies need “to create a new kind of firm, in which introverts, extroverts and all the in-betweeners are equally likely to flourish.”
You don’t see many spiral-bound notebooks or legal pads in meeting these days. They’ve been supplanted by laptops, which are speedier, allowing us to take notes near verbatim. But it turns out that writing in longhand actually forces our brains to process information in the moment, rewriting it in our own words. As a result, research shows, this method of note-taking is far better for retention and recall.
Monotasking, or single-tasking, is the new buzzword for what used to be called “paying attention.” It’s not just about getting things done. “It’s a digital literacy skill,” said WNYC host Manoush Zomorodi in The New York Times. “Our gadgets and all the things we look at on them are designed to not let us single-task. We weren’t talking about this before because we simply weren’t as distracted.”
So is monotasking a movement? “It’s not there yet,” Ms. Zomorodi allowed. “But I think it will be.”
We’ve all heard that meditation and yoga reduce stress, but did you know they can lead to 47 to 62 minutes of increased productivity per week? These are results from a study of Aetna employees, and may be one reason that insurance firm hired organizational psychologist Andy Lee as its full-time Chief Mindfulness Officer—presumably the first position of its kind. Other companies are teaming up with Tony Schwartz, author of The Energy Project, to advise firms on how employees can avoid burnout.
For most of history, all food was hyper-local. If you wanted to eat it, you had to gather, pick, trap, hunt or fish for your food. It’s really only in the last century that we’ve become disconnected from farms and gardens, and dependent on industrial agriculture, feedlot meat, packaged food conglomerates and fast food chains—a.k.a. “Big Food.”
But today’s consumers are getting back in tune with food sources—and growing concerned about the risks associated with an unchecked food industry. In fact, the eating landscape is changing so fast that Big Food can’t really control it anymore, noted food writer Michael Pollan in The New York Times Magazine. “[Its] vulnerability is the conscience of the American eater, who in the past decade or so has taken a keen interest in the question of where our food comes from, how it is produced and the impact of our everyday food choices on the land, on the hands that feed us, on the animals we eat and, increasingly, on the climate.”
More and more lately, we’re able to bypass mass agriculture and connect with independent growers, ranchers and artisanal food makers who comprise a $50 billion and growing Small Food industry. Soon, too, digital tracking systems may allow us to review the entire lifecycle of what we buy, from seed to store, with the simple scan of a barcode.
The FDA has released new requirements for nutrition labels to address added sugar and serving sizes. But that isn’t all consumers are looking for. They want to know: Is it organic? Does it contain GMO ingredients? Fair trade? No antibiotics? Is the ingredient list full of unpronounceable additives and chemicals?
“The new definition of modern health is very different from the traditional view, which was to reduce fat, sugar and sodium,” says Robert Kilmer, president of Nestlé Dreyer’s Ice Cream. “Healthy now is about ‘What’s in my food and where did it come from?’”
Responding to this demand, food-tracking startups using Internet of Things technology may soon enable consumers to trace ingredients’ entire supply chain simply by scanning a barcode with their smartphone. More vitally, such systems enable food manufacturers to identify the source of pathogens responsible for food poisoning, which affects some 48 million Americans a year.
Eventually, we may not need printed labels at all. Food + Future coLab, a collaboration between Target, the design firm IDEO and the MIT Media Lab, is experimenting with ways to provide grocery shoppers with information on freshness, GMOs, animal welfare and more. One method being tested involves using a “food transparency” produce scale that would supply information.
Food + Future coLab is also trying augmented reality smart-phone apps. One, called Pickl, overlays product information using the camera and screen of a smartphone. It will even offer product suggestions based on preferences set in the user’s profile.
Speaking of not-always-helpful labels, President Obama signed into law a bill requiring food manufacturers to indicate whether products contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms) on their labels, though the FDA will have until 2018 to set exact standards for such labels.
This follows years of debate over what, if any, impact GMOs have on human health and the well-being of our planet. For the most part, the concerns center around what we don’t know. In the words of the environmental group Greenpeace, there’s great risk of “contaminating non ‘GE’ (genetically engineered) environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way.”
Meanwhile, many others still see GMOs as critical to tackling world hunger and improving sustainability. More than 100 Nobel laureates signed a letter urging Greenpeace to drop its opposition to GMOs. A report by agricultural consulting firm PG Economics asserts there’s been an environmental benefit to GMOs: reduced pesticide use and a change in farming methods that saves fuel and sequesters carbon. In terms of carbon emissions, this was “equivalent to removing nearly 10 million cars from the roads,” these ag economists say.
In particular, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continues to advocate for more GMO adoption, particularly in Africa, as a way to increase agricultural yields and make certain foods more vitamin-rich.
But a report by The New York Times on GMO use in Canada and the United States raises questions about these purported benefits. Not only have crop yields in these countries not increased as a result of the introduction of GMO crops, the report states, but farmers are using more herbicides than ever before.
And you might not see as many GMO labels as expected on grocery shelves, because farmers are scaling back their usage. With crop prices falling, some farmers are giving up on pricey GMO seed and weed killers. These same economic pressures are spurring consolidation in the agricultural industry, such as Bayer’s planned deal to acquire seed giant Monsanto.
At the same time that food delivery and meal-kit services like Blue Apron are providing new competition, restaurants, already a slim-margin business, are seeing costs rising–particularly wages and rents in dining capitals like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
“The creativity is leaving Manhattan because it can’t afford to be here,” says Richard Coraine of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. The NYC Food & Beverage Hospitality Council—a panel of restaurant businesspeople—may recommend that the City allow restaurants to add a 20% administration fee to diners’ bills to cover rising costs.
“The longer chefs look at restaurant math, the less it adds up for them,” chef David Chang told GQ in 2016, the year he opened restaurant Nishi as well as delivery-only service Ando. And this was after having invested in Maple, another food delivery service, in 2015.
So what can chefs do besides take their skills to the cafeterias of Silicon Valley’s tech companies, which pay them top dollar?
“I’ve seen a lot of places try to have the efficiency of fast casual, with the ambience of traditional sit-down,” said ZEITGUIDE friend and Bon Appétit senior editor Julia Kramer, who travels the country in search of the best new restaurants.
This “fine casual” approach—ordering high-end food at a counter and seating yourself sans table service—has gone beyond upscale burger chains like Shake Shack. San Francisco’s Barzotto is a prime example. Chef Michelle Minori offers affordable pastas and a reasonably priced wine list. After customers order at the counter, they’re given a beacon device that tells the server where to bring the food. The dining room is resplendent with white tile, wood and gold accents—so the casual service comes with plenty of ambience. Other Bay Area eateries, including Souvla, Little Gem and Corridor, use this template to offer fine-dining-quality meals, sometimes for half what they would cost in traditional high-end establishments.
These fine-casual spots are more profitable and easily replicated. That allows for greater experimentation with the menu and, Chang says, provides the financial stability for chefs to keep the doors open at their riskier high-end establishments. So for diners who prefer white tablecloths and servers in pressed shirts, the trend benefits them too.
The 2016 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list got its start in 2002 as a project of British culinary magazine Restaurant before spinning off to become its own entity. In that comparatively brief window, it has overtaken Michelin in status (Michelin’s roots go back to 1900) and drawn attention from gourmands and chefs alike.
Following several years where Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca and Denmark’s Noma ping-ponged back and forth as No. 1, the 2016 list gave the top spot to Italy’s Osteria Francescana. The list has also focused attention on emerging culinary capitals such as Lima and Mexico City.
By singling out innovative, groundbreaking chefs, the list has created a space where culinary visionaries inspire and compete with one another. David Chang likened entry to the room after his Momofuku Ssäm Bar made the list in 2009 to “being rushed by a fraternity.”
Fraternity is an apt word. The 2016 top 50 features only two female chefs, both of whom share their role in their restaurants with men. But increasing numbers of women are going to culinary school; at the Culinary Institute of America (with campuses in New York, California, Texas and Singapore), half the students are female. But female chefs still lag behind their male counterparts in pay and level of recognition from “Best of” lists.
Lists like World’s 50 Best have tremendous power to elevate restaurants and the careers of chefs. When Central in Lima made last year’s top 5, for example, more than 1,000 reservation requests poured in over three days. Which is why the voting process has drawn scrutiny. Much like any MVP award’s, the criteria are vague; voters simply choose their seven “best” restaurants. While this gives the list an unpredictable quality, such a practice also leaves it open to plenty of bias.
“Michelin’s criteria are not transparent, but there is at least an institutional consistency,” Christine Muhlke, Bon Appétit editor-at-large and founder of food consultancy Bureau X, told us. “Why did Le Chateaubriand in Paris fall out of the top 50 this year after having held a great spot for years? What about Thomas Keller’s two restaurants dropping into the second tier this year? It’s hard to tell if the judges value innovation or simply newness.”
In short, there is no perfect way to rank restaurants. Which is why there are many, many lists to sate curious eaters who can’t get a reservation at Noma.
Food choices today are less about nutrition and more about self-expression. “Food is a hobby for people. It’s no longer just functional,” ZEITGUIDE friend and CEO of Mouth Foods, an online seller of independent food brands, Craig Kanarick told us. “It has come on par with music and film.”
Consumers are forming allegiances with small-food makers that are akin to a teen’s obsession with a favorite indie band.
So just who are these small-food renegades? “These are artists who are doing it for the art, not because they’re part of this big machinery,” Kanarick adds. “It’s about food made by real people.”
Small food brands are wooing customers with promises of better ingredients, better taste and better health. But many of these brands want to scale up too, which often means partnering with major food corporations. But do such partnerships hurt these brands’ rep with consumers?
Not necessarily. Ben & Jerry’s was sold to Unilever, for example, but managed to keep its fans and social mission intact. Big food companies have been snapping up organic and specialty food makers. The biggest—General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Campbell’s Soup—have launched venture capital funds to invest in food startups. As investor Will Rosenzweig told Civil Eats, “The warfare for the consumer’s long-term share of stomach is a brutal, expensive game.”
If you’re a vegetarian and you are sick of veggie burgers, alternatives are getting closer to the real thing. ZEITGUIDE CEO Brad Grossman got a bite of the Impossible Burger and reports that it tastes, looks and feels like beef, even though it’s made completely from plants. Its founders attribute heme, an iron containing compound also abundant in meat, as the “magic ingredient.” It’s available now at a handful of high-end vegetarian-friendly restaurants.
Don’t ignore those blemished pieces of produce. There’s nothing wrong with them, and what we currently reject could feed another 2 billion people. With the global population expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, and with food prices rising, we’ll need to learn to be less picky with our produce and more creative in our cooking.
Most wines are treated with chemicals and enzymes (like sulfur) to ensure consistency from bottle to bottle. Natural wines, made without these additives, run a bit wilder. They can be bitter, more acidic, earthier and less polished. In a word: interesting. ZEITGUIDE friend Lauren J. Kennedy of wine distributor Jenny & Francois Selections said, “For me, the wines are more alive, expressive and thirst-quenching, and I appreciate their individuality.”
With more than a quarter of the U.S. population now living in legal-weed states, “interpening,” which means interpreting the effect of pot’s essential oils on the senses, is becoming a popular skill. You can take a class in it, and one Colorado restaurant owner now even provides weed dining experiences to his guests. Reports Bloomberg, “The protocol is puff, eat, drink, in that order.”
Kombucha has been popular for quite some time, but do you know about tepache, a fermented pineapple drink? People are using it as a mixer for cocktails that give a probiotic gut shot. Tepache fizzes, anyone?
Koji is made by mixing the fungus Aspergillus oryzae into a variety of cooked grains to break down their carbohydrates and proteins. It’s a central ingredient in miso and soy sauces, creating that umami flavor. It’s becoming a thing on menus, too: Jonathon Sawyer’s Trentina in Cleveland uses it to replicate the taste of dry-aging meat (which can take four months) in a mere 48 hours. Baroo in Los Angeles adds it to almost every dish. Other ingredients to watch out for: sumac, a deep red spice with a tart lemon avor, and bright, fruity Aleppo pepper. Madcapra in Los Angeles and Tusk in Portland are taking advantage of these Middle Eastern flavors to offer clean, healthy, veggie-driven food that is bold and flavorful, as ZEITGUIDE friend and Bon Appétit senior editor Julia Kramer told us.
Gluten-free peaked as a search term at the end of 2015. In its place comes “grain-free,” according to ZEITGUIDE friend Lisa Levine, certified life and health coach and owner of Audacious Health & Wellness. “Think sweet potato waffles, cauliflower rice and spiralized veggies. While not exactly new, these foods are morphing from being the darlings of the Paleo movement to acceptable menu items and products at Trader Joe’s.”
As Levine told us, “Less sugar, more filling and just as detoxifying: those are a few of the attributes of souping. Popular examples include bone broth (chicken, beef or lamb), which is packed with collagen and glucosamine, and soups like curried carrot, pumpkin, creamy broccoli and cauliflower. As long as they don’t have dairy, soy, grains, sugar or additives you can’t pronounce, they should be A-ok.”
We’ve all heard about the importance of probiotics (the good bacteria in our gut that keeps us healthy), but the buzz is now about prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are types of fiber that promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Foods they’re found in include onions, leeks, garlic, jicama, dandelion greens (great sautéed or blended into pesto, says Levine), asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, oats and flaxseed.
ZEITGUIDE friend and author of the recently published “The London Cookbook,” Aleksandra Crapanzano, alerted us to the massive improvement in London’s culinary scene. The cause, according to her? “I trace it back to five great chefs—Terence Conran of Bibendum, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of River Cafe, Fergus Henderson of St John and Yotam Ottolenghi of his eponymous shop. They each are extraordinary teachers, as well, who trained a generation of chefs who have now spread through the city, turning a thousand years of stringy mutton and grey vegetables into delectable fare.”
Content is still king. But a king without loyal followers and great distribution isn’t sitting on much of a throne.
Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, which owns Pixar, ESPN, Lucasfilm and Marvel, put it like this: “In today’s world, it’s almost not enough to have all that stuff unless you have access to your consumer.”
A lot of players are vying for position: streaming giants Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Hulu and PlayStation Vue, as well as legacy media brands like HBO, Showtime, CBS and Disney. Even Snapchat and Facebook are expanding in the direction of creating original content.
At the same time, huge numbers of cord cutters (812,000 subscribers cancelled their pay TV service in the second quarter of 2016 alone) have left cable and satellite services wounded—but not dead. They’re fighting back with aggressive deal-making and by offering their own “slim” streaming bundles with fewer channels at lower cost. After buying DIRECTV, AT&T is packaging a bundle of 100 online channels for a $35 per month subscription, which includes mobile streaming costs. AT&T also has a deal to buy content gem Time Warner, which owns HBO, CNN and Warner Brothers (though we’ll see if a Trump presidency will make such deals less likely to go through).
Lower costs. On-demand availability. Mobile content. This is great for consumers. And for networks making shows that viewers feel compelled to watch, discuss and share, this transition from linear to digital could ultimately be a win. It represents a leveling of the playing field between the networks, whether they existed in or out of the traditional bundle, as premium add-ons or in a purely digital space. Whichever or whoever can step up their game and find ways to connect and engage their audiences will win. Showtime CEO David Nevins spelled it out: any network that fails to attract a devoted following is now at risk of being deleted from any type of bundle, analog or digital, as well as from our “cultural consciousness.”
All of the above just goes to show how media companies need to get creative and aggressive about finding and keeping their audience. “Fans-first” thinking is the term we’re hearing for this. It means mining data to pinpoint your loyal or likely viewers and communicating directly with them.
As Ross Martin, head of marketing for Viacom, explained to ZEITGUIDE, “Our fans are the north star. They’re more sophisticated than ever at discovering, consuming and evangelizing the content and experiences they love most. Everything our brands create becomes a real-time social experiment, generating insights on what works, for whom and why; it’s stunning–and it’s actionable.”
Martin teamed up with Comedy Central on a fans-first approach to promote the 20th season premiere of the animated comedy “South Park.” Using data on its 19 seasons worth of fans, combined with data from its 45 million Facebook friends, Viacom was able to market the premiere with scale and precision, with a “South Park” experience at Comic Con, and cross-promotions with other Viacom series these fans were known to watch.
The result? A 27% spike in real-time viewing for the premiere.
Advertising to fans is just a start. Brands also have to get smart on engaging them. For example, Viacom knew “South Park” fans loved sharing GIFs from the show on social media. Instead of cracking down on this (as the IOC prominently did during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games), Viacom embraced this show of fandom by creating a first-of-its-kind dedicated channel with Giphy that made 85,000 GIFs from the show’s 19 seasons available for fans to share.
Next, Viacom hopes to further rethink “sharing.” In one test of this, MTV Music in Australia incorporated live streams that fans posted of themselves dancing and singing along in an hour-long block of music videos. It becomes a series in 2017.
TBS/TNT president Kevin Reilly, whose networks are part of the traditional cable bundle and have been challenged to stay relevant to millennials, similarly believes in going where the fans are. A groundswell of young fans followed Conan O’Brien when he got on Twitter (accessing 300,000 followers in 24 hours), and then helped him sell out a 30-city tour. The result: TBS gave Conan a new late-night show.
“Those pockets of fandom have real value,” Reilly said during a panel with Conan O’Brien. “The level of fandom we have that we’ve taken for granted is an enormous equity that we haven’t mined … How do we throw different mini-businesses around those brands?”
Will it ever slow down?
Netflix is tearing it up. Its stock went up nearly 20% in mid-October off better-than-expected Q3 earnings—a result of strong international subscriber gains. The news was much better than in the second quarter of 2016, when the company added just 160,000 new subscribers in the U.S.—far below a projected 500,000.
Clearly, Netflix is doing some things right. It’s entertaining: the recently released “Stranger Things” and “Narcos” were both popular and endlessly discussed on social media. (Hello, free advertising!) It’s easy: Netflix has developed a good recommendation engine and simple digital interface. It’s convenient: you can watch anywhere on any device.
In 2012 Netflix had four original series; now it has 126, 30 of which came out this year. It might seem like all Netflix has to do is just keep making great content for happy users, and it will all be nothing but net. That’s certainly possible, but World Domination is not a done deal.
Netflix is the Daddy Warbucks of original content, spending $6 billion on it in 2016. HBO only spent $2 billion. Netflix often outbids other networks, pays up front and commits to two sea- sons, so TV and film producers tend to love this entertainment provider.
Except when they don’t. First, Netflix theatrical releases are limited, so there’s not much enticement from back-end cash on a big hit (though the service did expand a partnership with luxury movie theater chain iPic Entertainment to give its films a theatrical release on the same day they become available for streaming). Next, Netflix is less than transparent with creators about viewership numbers. This makes future financing hard to procure, since you’re only as hot as your last project.
In January 2016 Netflix said it was expecting as many as 90 million U.S. subscribers. After its strong Q3, that’s looking possible. Lucky for Netflix, which will need each and every one of these fees to keep paying those content bills. Otherwise it will have to raise prices, which historically hasn’t gone over well with subscribers.
Viewers, though, generally benefit from Netflix’s growing pains. Quality is high, subscription prices are low. But there’s some grumbling in Hollywood that it’s becoming a streaming monopoly. Netflix is still doing a delicate dance: paying huge sums for content, trying to attract and keep subscribers at a price they’re willing to pay—while keeping an eye on Hulu, Amazon Prime, Google, Facebook, Apple and Alibaba—all of which are nipping at its heels. That makes life hard for them, but gives us more content.
China’s box office grew 8% in 2016, hitting $5.28 billion. Not a bad year, but lacking the growth to eclipse the U.S. film market. Meanwhile, the Chinese appetite for Hollywood films has shrunk. In the first 6 months of the year, imported movies accounted for less than 47% of ticket sales in China. In 2015, that number was over 53%.
Hollywood is taking steps to flip these numbers. One tactic is to put a greater (yes, even greater) focus on action, sci-fi and fantasy movies. “They love men in tights,” observes Hollywood producer and UCLA lecturer Tom Nunan.
They are less enthusiastic about capes, or at least about the ones in the new “Batman v. Superman,” which did poorly in China. That’s why Hollywood is employing Tactic #2: Chinese actors. For example, the new film in the Star Wars series, “Rogue One,” will feature Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen.
If Hollywood wants a return on this investment, it should take care to give these actors solid screen time. Failing to give Chinese actors meaty roles isn’t just a poor showing for inclusion efforts, it’s bad for business. 2016’s “Independence Day: Resurgence” featured Chinese pop-actress and singer Angelababy, but many viewers found her role dispensable. On the other hand, “Now You See Me 2” featured Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou in a central role, and many observers pegged this as the reason the film outperformed ID42 at the Chinese box office.
The bigger picture: China is putting down roots in Hollywood. Steven Spielberg’s production house, Amblin Partners, took on minority investment from Alibaba Pictures. Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda, which now owns Legendary entertainment (producer of the Dark Knight trilogy) and American theater chain AMC, has agreed to pay $1 billion for Dick Clark productions. Once it completes its planned purchase of Carmike Cinemas, it will have assembled the largest movie theater chain in the U.S. Dalian Wanda is also offering major rebates to lure Hollywood productions to its $8 billion movie metropolis in Qingdao.
Now for the Cold War angle: Some fear these big investments in media companies by Dalian Wanda and others will give China’s regime too much influence on what American audiences see at the multiplex. Some are even predicting Congressional hearings. Is this a legit concern, based on Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin’s ties to the Communist Party of China, or just a 21st century version of the Red Scare?
Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Mixed reality. What’s the difference?
We used to think the future might look like “The Matrix,” where we could have virtual conversations and fight virtual battles with lifelike weapons just like Neo. What we got instead was Pokémon Go. Why? VR technology is still too rudimentary and its content too limited to really excite buyers. Facebook’s Oculus, Samsung and Sony’s PlayStation all released VR headsets in 2016, but if you’re like most Americans you haven’t purchased one. Holiday sales might change that. Maybe.
That said, it’s early days for this technology. Remember the internet in 1995?
When users speak of VR’s promise, the buzzword is empathy. They want a greater connection to stories they can immerse themselves in. Facebook and Instagram interactions potentially will become much more real and rewarding. Which is why the entertainment industry remains very much behind VR. In the summer of 2016, Sony Pictures became the first major studio to appoint a VR czar, while Comcast, Fox and talent agency WME invested a combined $43 million in VR startups.
Meanwhile, Augmented Reality, or AR, is looking pretty good right now. While VR places a single user into a separate, fully immersive world, AR simply superimposes images or data over reality.
Pokémon GO, which became the most downloaded app in the world when it was released, employs AR. It enables users to see and “catch” Pokémon characters placed throughout the physical world through the screen of their phones.
Snapchat stickers, although simpler and more primitive, are an already popular gateway into AR.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is like a grown up version of Pokémon GO. Instead of Pikachu inserting himself into users’ worlds, users interact with automobile designs, the human skull or an actual touchscreen that can “walk alongside” them as they move around home or office.
The genius of Pokémon GO wasn’t just that it fulfilled fans’ dreams of seeing their beloved characters in the real world. It allowed fans to share the experience with friends, family and, most significantly, strangers. “In a VR situation, you’re isolating yourself from everyone around you and entering this completely virtual space. AR is designed to enhance the things you do as a human being,” said John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, the developer behind the game. But if you think he’s biased, maybe you’ll believe Apple CEO Tim Cook, who said on “Good Morning America” in September, “My own view is that augmented reality is the larger of the two, probably by far.”
One more emerging player to watch: a company called Magic Leap, whose goggles enable virtual objects to look like they are truly farther away, not just projected in front of you; this effect the company describes as Mixed Reality, or MR.
Magic Leap has attracted over $1 billion in investments from companies such as Alibaba, Google and Qualcomm. And while that startup has been keeping things highly secretive, many ZEITGUIDE clients have managed to get a glimpse of what’s being called the most impressive application of this technology thus far.
Can exclusivity help the music industry?
The growth in streaming subscriptions led the music industry to its biggest year in over a decade, and its first year-over-year growth since the 1990s.
The fight to acquire paying subscribers is as fierce as ever, with Spotify hitting the 40 million mark and Apple Music topping 17 million. iHeartMedia is entering the fray with a plan to convert some of its 90 million free-app users to a paid service. Pandora unveiled a $5 a month option, as well as a $10 a month service that more closely resembles the features seen in Spotify. Amazon is doing the same with Amazon Music Unlimited, which is $7.99 a month for Prime members, $3.99 for Echo owners and $9.99 for everyone else.
One result of all this competition has been a push for more exclusive releases from artists. When Kanye West released “The Life of Pablo,” he first made it exclusive to Tidal. It racked up 250 million streams in its first 10 days on the service. Not long afterward, however, the album was made available on Spotify, Google Play and Apple Music. In a similar move, Frank Ocean released his “Blonde” exclusively on Apple Music for two weeks before making it available on Spotify.
So these exclusives weren’t exclusive-exclusive. More like temporary exclusive. The hardcover before the paperback. “Going forward, you will see some version of windowing in the music industry,” Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton told Billboard. “You’re going to be able to hear the music first in a subscription service and then later in a free service.”
This model is new, and a 180-degree switch from what it was in the days when free radio play drove record sales and revenue. Music streaming services and artists alike, grasping for a sustainable and profitable distribution model, might come to agree on one where consumers pay a premium for advance access. And increasing crossovers in the tech and music industries, such as Google’s move to bring in former Def Jam president Lyor Cohen as Global Head of Music at YouTube, are expanding the potential for such deals even further.
Whether this approach becomes the new norm remains to be seen. It may assuage hit makers like Adele, Taylor Swift and Gwen Stefani, who all kept their No. 1 albums off Spotify.
Another question is whether windowing might evolve into long-term exclusivity. There is buzz that Tidal, for instance, may expand its current offerings of music videos and live-streaming concerts to include original movies. The idea is to provide an outlet for Tidal’s stable of stars, including West and Rihanna, to create and star in their own films, while also attracting more subscribers.
If streaming services start paying artists directly to produce original content, where does that leave traditional record labels and publishers, who currently scoop up around 70% of the revenue generated by streaming?
ZEITGUIDE friend and CEO at Three Six Zero Group Mark Gillespie says record labels are actually better positioned than they’ve been in recent years. “It’s amazing that more people are paying for music and that there are more players in the marketplace,” he told us. “Now that there’s money coming in, the next step is to develop the next generation of break-through artists.”
Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are trying to shed the ‘social’ label. Facebook was first a platform for connecting with friends; now it’s a news publisher, a broadcaster and a marketplace. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg admitted to Adweek that “social” is “certainly not even a term I think we’ve used in a while.” Snapchat stripped “chat” off its name to become “Snap Inc.” and has redefined itself as a “camera company.” Twitter shifted its listing in the iTunes app store from the social media section to the news section. Today, if “social” just means sharing and commenting, then all of media is social.
Pundits, professional and amateur alike, whiffed on predicting the presidential election. For the non-professionals scratching their heads on their couches, how much of a role did the “filter bubble,” the insulating effect produced when Google and Facebook algorithms filter out what we don’t want to see, play in our ignorance? And for the news media, is the growing concentration of journalists in a small handful of cities confining them to their own bubble, as well?
In Hollywood today, ZEITGUIDE friend and WME agent Simon Faber told us, most films are either big-budget blockbuster hopefuls or small budget indies hoping to break even playing in art houses and on Netflix. The audience for low-budget films is, increasingly, baby boomers. According to The Guardian, a look at the most profitable independent films of 2016 shows many were “aimed strictly at adults, many of them centered on characters age 60 and over.”
“YouTube stars used to have a shtick, but now they have to have a unique personality that stays relevant to their audience,” says Jeff Levin, talent manager at The Collective. What are these personalities? United Entertainment Group came up with six social media archetypes: The Well-Rounded Life, The Team Player, The Gaming Star, The Quirky Cook, The Adventurer and The Fashion Icon with a Personal Touch.
China’s thriving consumer culture dominates the news, but there exists a longstanding underground counterculture exemplified by punk rock, the struggle against state censorship and resistance to “the decadent, consumer-driven society.” But it’s not easy being punk in Beijing, caught between Communism and gentrification. When rock club Mao Live House closed last spring, the owner blamed both “tighter rules” and “rising rent.”
In previous years, devout music consumers had to look to the indie scene—across all genres—for inspiration. But this year, mainstream pop music demonstrated maximum power and innovation. Yes, this translates to Beyoncé putting out her critically acclaimed Lemonade album. “In a way, this has shifted from the single-oriented pop albums of the ‘90s and early ‘00s,” ZEITGUIDE friend David Graver, senior editor at Cool Hunting, told us, “and embraced the idea of an album as a piece of art.”
Channing Tatum will play the mermaid—Mermister? Merman?—in a remake of “Splash.” Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones starred in a big-budget reboot of “Ghostbusters.” “Ocean’s 11” is being remade as “Ocean’s 8” for a 2018 release, with Sandra Bullock in the lead. Each is an effort to fuse the familiar with something fresh that producers hope will attract audiences. “It’s one way to make your movie part of the cultural conversation, so that it becomes urgent to see,” according to ZEITGUIDE friend and original “Splash” producer Brian Grazer.
“Digital fatigue” is taking a toll on e-book sales—marking a trend away from increasingly digital music and video. Books in print are still seen as a respite from all the screens in our lives. Little wonder a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that kids read these old-fashioned books. Even if digital media can be personalized for children, books with bindings are more effective at sucking them in and boosting their curiosity, the report said. The academy also lowered the amount of recommended screen time for young children to one hour per day and advised that children under 18 months shouldn’t be in front of screens at all.
In 2011, Comcast wanted to test releasing “Tower Heist” on demand for 60 bucks, three weeks after its theatrical premiere. But the theaters protested and Comcast nixed the idea. Given today’s sluggish box office, ZEITGUIDE friend Prem Akkaraju, CEO and co-founder, with Sean Parker, of Screening Room, thinks it’s time to revisit that idea. His company built a set-top box and the software to beam films to your TV for $50 during the weekend of its theatrical release. He’s gotten major theater chains to buy in by offering them a cut. Filmmakers including Peter Jackson, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams are also on board. Meanwhile, home entertainment giant Netflix struck a deal with the theater chain iPic to show its movies in theaters.
For the first time in 2016, digital ad spending surpassed traditional TV spending. Of the $72.09 billion spent on digital in the U.S. ($45.95 billion of which went to mobile, according to eMarketer), a majority wound up in the pockets of Facebook or Google. Facebook has more than 1.7 billion users. Google, with its AdSense utility and search-based advertising, has the most sophisticated tools in the industry. If digital advertising were a country, they’d be president and prime minister.
But not necessarily its rulers for life. Both companies are challenged by competitors who can make digital advertising more effective and profitable. And just because you’re the biggest kid on the block doesn’t mean the other kids stop growing. Mobile companies in particular are moving aggressively now that most of our internet time is spent on our phones. Verizon recently purchased AOL and Yahoo, making itself a much bigger player with ad tech, while AT&T’s purchase of DirecTV and pending deal for Time Warner mean it could have a reach that extends from your favorite show right to your cell phone.
Also, they have their vulnerable spots. Facebook recently revealed it had overestimated by 60% to 80% the amount of time users spend watching videos. Over at Google, where search ads are still the bread and butter, the move to mobile devices, smaller screens, voice-based search and unsearchable content within “apps” is changing the game.
There’s no question digital technology is a huge advertising opportunity. Just think of how many times per day you check your own mobile device. There’s more customer data than ever before, and brands are getting better at using it. Social media sharing creates essentially free advertising. And digital technology makes sales easy: Customers can decide they want an item, shop for it, buy it and tell 1,000 of their closest friends about it in less time than it takes to brush their teeth.
On the flip side, consumers may be plugged in, but they’re also distracted. At the same time, ad-blocking software, viewability issues and a lack of transparency and trustworthiness on audience measurement raise questions about how many customers even see ads.
“Until the media landscape finds equilibrium, brands and platforms will continue to explore new methods of capturing the attention of consumers,” says ZEITGUIDE friend Michael E. Kassan, Chairman and CEO of MediaLink. “While many of these tactics will not work, a digital world enables our industry to experiment, fail, experiment again, pivot and then, hopefully, succeed. Failing fast is a viable solution—it’s always possible to start anew.”
During the 2016 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, we lost track of how many times we heard advertisers use the word “authenticity.” But consumers are more cynical than ever. They don’t like being dazzled as much as they like being convinced that products—and the people behind those products—have souls. The task remains to figure out what resonates with customers as authentic.
So, for example, Lo Bosworth from the aughts MTV hit “The Hills,” tweeting that she eats pumpkin straight from the can, “with a touch of agave, @LibbysPumpkin #PumpkinCan #ad,” scores a big zero on the authent-o-meter. In contrast, the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty, which forgoes professional models in favor of everyday women to promote broader, more inclusive notions of beauty, is still going strong after 12 years. As of 2014, the campaign has increased sales from $2.5 billion to $4 billion.
Now those are some seriously authentic numbers.
We saw another shift toward authenticity while looking at the winners at Cannes Lions 2016. Much of the so-called advertising at that festival was actually a product that served the brand message, as opposed to a message that served the brand’s product. To achieve this pinnacle of authenticity—actual utility for the consumer—marketers have to work harder to make their brands something consumers have a genuine relationship with.
One award-winning example: REI’s #OptOutside campaign, which involved the leisure time outdoors outfitter shutting down all its stores on Black Friday—the busiest shopping day of the year—and encouraging customers to get outside instead. It was a bold move, probably verging on terrifying for the store’s CFO. But it allowed REI to walk its talk.
If advertising finds new customers, it’s the customer experience—CX for short—that turns them into loyal friends or ferocious enemies. Is it a pleasure for them to select, order and receive merchandise? Can they re-order their favorites with a simple push of a button? Or are they angrily heading to a baby shower sans gift because “two-day delivery” is a big fat lie?
“The digital age is the age of the customer,” ZEITGUIDE friend and GE CMO Linda Boff told us. “If we don’t make it as easy, frictionless and simple as possible for our customers to do business with us, they will find an alternative.”
According to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, by 2020 some 86% of marketers expect they’ll be leading CX efforts, responsible for tying together aspects of the customer journey that were formerly handled by technology, sales or customer service or that fell into a gap.
Customer experience succeeds, quite simply, when a brand’s employees treat customers as they would want to be treated. Starbucks customers could pay less for coffee elsewhere, but will they get a barista who remembers their name, their regular order and asks if they want breakfast?
Amazon Prime customers know when they place an order it will arrive in two days. They know if something’s defective, they’ll get a full refund—probably before they even send the item back.
Sure, it takes a lot of work for Amazon and Starbucks to develop this company culture of putting customers first, always. But this effort isn’t just good business, it is the business. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos describes how his company succeeds: “We never think of ourselves as tied to any particular technology or skill set. We think of ourselves as tied to our customers, and we’re trying to work backwards from their needs.”
With customer experience of such paramount importance, it’s reasonable to wonder about the increasing use of chatbots on websites, Twitter and through messaging apps. It might seem counterintuitive, but bots actually can help make the customer experience more responsive by automating basic tasks and providing instant replies. They also free up human beings to spend more time and energy on customers, taking on those tasks where the human touch and a sense of empathy are needed.
“Chatbots further allow companies to communicate with customers in an innovative way,” says ZEITGUIDE friend JR Badian, VP of digital marketing and social media at MasterCard, who’s currently launching their own bot. “While at the same time allowing for precise messaging with contextual relevance, which enhances the consumer experience and brand promise.”
We might also see virtual reality playing a growing role in CX as a way to close the gap between reality and a buyer’s expectation. Lowe’s already has a VR “Holoroom,” where remodelers can watch their ideal kitchen or bathroom take shape before their eyes, and Audi is using a similar process for customizing cars. Volvo and Lexus have started offering virtual test drives.
I want to reach millennials.
I want to reach the Hispanic market.
Advertisers and brands still talk this way, seemingly missing the larger trend of how fragmented the media environment has become. Demographics such as age and ethnicity, or even groups like parents or retirees, don’t cut it anymore.
As ZEITGUIDE friend and COO of Fusion Media Group Boris Gartner says, “You can’t reach multiculturals as one bucket. You need to understand the cultural nuances of their tastes, attitudes and experiences.” Too often, he points out, brands think they can serve up one-size-fits-all marketing to all Spanish speakers in the U.S. “Hispandard,” he called it dismissively.
Brands have tons of data on consumers, and they need to use it to dive into the granular: What are their customers’ specific tastes, purchasing behaviors and media habits? The important question is not which categories separate these people, but what do they all have in common? Brands able to answer this can communicate with all of their customers in one voice, no matter who they are. They can also pinpoint their ads more effectively.
To serve this aim, major media companies are scooping up publications across verticals. Univision owns Fusion, The Onion, the pop culture site The A.V. Club and The Root. It recently purchased Gawker Media, adding feminist publication Jezebel and the sports site Deadspin to its empire. Vox has eight editorial brands, ranging from the sports-fan site SB Nation to foodie blog Eater. VICE Media now has VICE Sports, Noisey, Motherboard, Broadly, MUNCHIES, Thump and its new cable television channel, VICELAND. No matter what readers are interested in, Univision, Vox and VICE have content to serve them. (In truth, this is a bit of a throwback to the metro daily newspaper, with its sports, food, entertainment, features and news sections.)
Tastes and interests are huge. They have an enormous effect on who consumers are and what they’ll buy. But more generalized groupings are generally where the marketing conversation starts.
Here’s a good overview on generations. Read it, but take it with a grain of salt. Or two. Remember, if marketing categories were really obvious, marketing wouldn’t be so hard.
This is the next generation that follows millennials. Born in the mid 1990s and early 2000s, they are increasingly becoming the dominant social influencers, so marketers pay a lot of attention to them. They grew up using the web, and treat it like a third parent. They ask it what to buy. They are extremely interested in online reviews and blog posts. According to Emerson Spartz, CEO of the digital media company Dose, they value “authenticity and transparency.” Traditional advertising–attractive people telling you to buy things–doesn’t tend to work on them.
Contrary to popular belief, Gen Zers do use Facebook. But that’s their public face, a sort of informal resume. They’re more likely to let it all hang out, in emojis, on Instagram and Snapchat, which they also just use for general communication.
Millennials reached adulthood around the year 2000, with many graduating into the Great Recession. The economizing habits they learned are reemerging as they have children. Millennial moms love to compare prices, use coupons or loyalty cards, shop around to find better deals and buy in bulk. Though popular shows like “Girls” give the impression that they all live in Brooklyn, some demographers say that we’ve passed peak urbanization with this crowd, and that the suburbs beckon.
Gen Xers were born from the early to mid 1960s up until about 1980. They’re starting to worry about their own retirement, and also how to care for their aging boomer parents. They’re hard to categorize, smaller than the generations before and after them and have a well-deserved reputation for cynicism; so marketers don’t pay a lot of attention to them.
Born after World War II through the early 1960s, there are 74.2 million of them. And they have a fair amount of money. Marketers love them, catering to them in boundless ways: online dating sites, electric bikes, caregivers and yoga instructors to help prolong and improve their quality of life.
This summer, McCann Japan hired a new creative director. Sadly, there will be no after-work drinks or cake in the break room to welcome him, because this new creative director is a computer. OK, an artificial intelligence system, which, at advertising industry events, will potentially find no shortage of other AI creatives to chat up. Maybe it will meet IBM’s Watson, which worked on a music video for Saatchi & Saatchi.
AI and automation are remaking every industry, and advertising is no exception. For years, marketers have been using more and more sophisticated ad technology to place digital ads in real time to individually targeted consumers—so-called “programmatic advertising.” But that hasn’t always translated into greater impact.
It seems advertising cannot live by algorithm alone. “There’s no algorithm for cool,” Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, said at Cannes Lions. “There’s no algorithm for beautiful.”
ZEITGUIDE friend and chief creative officer at Papermag, Drew Elliott, echoed that. “An algorithm can only recommend based on what it knows that you already like,” he said. “The pulses that matter—the disruptive, attention-grabbing campaigns, content and ideas—these come from creative thinkers: the magicians.”
ZEITGUIDE friend Harry Kargman, founder and CEO of mobile ad platform Kargo, obviously appreciates the value of ad tech. But even he agreed that in the rush to pinpoint likely consumers, “the message is often an afterthought.” Digital advertising, he said, needs to merge creative and programmatic elements together creatively—a fusion he dubbed “art tech.”
In July of 2016, former Saatchi and Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts told Business Insider that the debate about gender discrimination in the ad industry was “fucking all over.” He appears to have spoken too soon. Jay Walter Thompson and parent company WPP are facing a major gender discrimination lawsuit. Event planners at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival sent out an email blast requesting the attendance of “attractive females and models only” at a stag party. Meanwhile, down the hall, an aspirin ad with no clear message beyond its misogyny (“Don’t worry babe, I’m not filming this,” being the operative line) was winning an award.
Those are just details; here’s the big picture: All of the six major advertising agency holding company CEOs are men. Women make up 46.4% of the advertising industry, but only 11% of its creative directors are women. And despite the fact that women make up the majority of consumers and ad viewers, they are rarely given speaking roles in ads.
The good news is that women in advertising have been extremely vocal in their dissent. Kevin Roberts stepped down from his position in the wake of his remarks, amid enraged protest. After “Make Love Not Porn” founder and ZEITGUIDE friend Cindy Gallop tweeted about the creepy aspirin ad, Bayer eventually pulled it. Madonna Badger’s #WomenNotObjects initiative is forcing the industry to confront common practices like photoshopping women and using images of isolated body parts.
Helayne Spivak, ZEITGUIDE friend and Dean of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter, worries about women’s future in advertising. She cites a recent Harvard Business Review piece arguing that millennial men are just as sexist as their fathers. But she does see a silver lining: “The young women in our program feel that they get their strength from the women around them, and they will not let sexism hold them back. They’re vocal and they’re smart. That’s progress,” she said. This optimism was echoed by ZEITGUIDE friend Shelley Zalis, founder of The Girls’ Lounge. “There’s power in the pack,” she told us. “If we help each other rise, we all shine.”
According to Badger & Winter’s research, ads that portray women as “whole, human and strong” raise purchase intent and brand reputation. If doing the right thing doesn’t motivate the advertising industry to change, perhaps the bottom line will.
Honey Nut Cheerios taking mascot Buzz off its box to promote awareness of its #BringBacktheBees campaign and Always’ #LikeaGirl ads were two great examples of brands finding causes that fit them. Our favorite example came from BBDO Mumbai for Procter & Gamble’s laundry brand, Ariel. Its #sharetheload campaign depicted a father’s internal apology to his stressed daughter, a working mother, for setting a poor example of the level of household help she should expect from her husband. “This is one of the most powerful videos I have ever seen–showing how stereotypes hurt all of us and are passed from generation to generation,” said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
It’s not an insult. Dual Income No Kids couples, DINKs for short, was coined as a term in the 1980s. Now comprising 14% of all households in the U.S., and growing as more couples post-pone or opt not to have children at all, the demographic has become a greater focus of advertisers.
We’ve seen the lines between content and advertising continue to blur in the form of native advertising. And while not without controversy, when done well these integrations do manage to offer more entertainment value for the audience and exposure for the brand. One example we saw that audiences, networks and advertisers enjoyed came from a segment on Conan featuring the host taking Ice Cube and Kevin Hart out with a “student driver,” which would go on to gain over 36 million views on YouTube. Few realized the spot was sponsored by Universal Pictures in order to promote Hart and Ice Cube’s new movie, “Ride Along 2.” To TBS/TNT president Kevin Reilly, such integrations will become even more common as a way to reduce commercial breaks (which anyone with a DVR is skipping anyway) and more effectively get the advertiser’s message across.
If you find commercials just plain weird today, you’re not alone. Many firms have grabbed on to an approach, dubbed “oddvertising,” where commercials center around surreal, unbelievable scenarios. The stranger they get, the more audiences seem to engage with and remember them, prompting something of an arms race of the bizarre. One of 2016’s most memorable examples was Loctite’s Super Bowl ad for glue.
Marketers are getting creative with physical destinations that communicate a particular message about a brand. One example: Airbnb collaborated with the Art Institute of Chicago to re-create Van Gogh’s famous painting of his bedroom in Arles down to the smallest detail. Then it offered the bedroom as an Airbnb rental. Some brands, including Nobu, Shinola and West Elm, are even opening up their own hotels. Another great example: Cadillac House, a rotating gallery and boutique coffee house on the ground floor of the company’s Manhattan headquarters. As ZEITGUIDE friend and principal at Gensler, John Box Bricker, who designed the space, told us, this brand-building, community-connecting, digitally integrated and programmable space is a whole new way to “spend marketing money to create a destination.”
How do most of us like to shop? Do we drive to the brick-and-mortar shopping mall? Or just park in front of our computers, ordering everything from Amazon? Or log into a favorite app? Just as our media habits have become increasingly fragmented, so, too, have our shopping behaviors.
Retailers are desperate to unify the entire offline/online shopping experience for consumers, not only to accelerate sales at all touchpoints, but to build that fleeting thing in the digital age–brand loyalty.
Omnichannel, a buzzword in retail for years, is inching closer to reality. Retailers are getting better at meeting consumers wherever they want to shop—in a store, on a laptop or on a mobile device. They also need to crunch customer data to provide a sales experience that is personalized. And they now have to think about the whole customer journey, right down to delivery: do shoppers want to buy online and pick up at the store, or choose it in the store and get it delivered?
In short, a lot of moving parts have to get in sync. Omnichannel nirvana is easy to imagine, but really hard to execute.
E-commerce, which accounted for around 8% of all retail sales ahead of the 2016 holiday season, has been increasing every year. Still, lots of retailers are leaving money on the table. Why? They fail to deliver a convenient, seamless online experience, and potential customers leave the site in frustration.
“Marketers will drop customers at the front door of a website, then yell about conversion rates,” says ZEITGUIDE friend Marko Bon, whose past jobs include creative e-commerce at Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers. “There’s a dissonance that often exists between marketers, whose job is to get you to the site, and UX teams, which include a mix of creative designers, researchers, testers and coders responsible for architecting the site.”
Legacy brands are investing in their e-commerce, while also buying companies that are already doing it right. Unilever’s $1 billion purchase of Dollar Shave Club is just one example. ZEITGUIDE friend Lyde Spann, president and founder of Netamorphosis, says that the big-ticket purchase may actually be a bargain for Unilever. “Unilever’s investment in Dollar Shave Club is cost-effective when, in addition to the balance sheet, it’s acquiring e-commerce leadership capabilities, operational and systems know-how, digital customer acquisition methodologies and a captivated online consumer database,” she points out. “It reflects hedging their bets in the short midterm as multichannel distribution continues to evolve.”
Historically, brands never knew the names of their customers, explains ZEITGUIDE friend Mike Jones, CEO of Science Inc., one of the incubators of Dollar Shave Club. “Their primary relationship was with the buyers of their retail partnerships. The magic of online commerce is not only convenience, but the fact that brands can now have an ongoing dialogue with their customers and work to improve their products while enhancing experiences through direct customer feedback.”
What does this mean for brick-and-mortar stores? “The number one competitors for the biggest brands in the world are their retail partners,” says ZEITGUIDE friend, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Gary Vaynerchuk. He explains that when brands create “the ability and the data to market directly to people, they’re going to cut [retailers] out.”
Such a switch comes at a risk. Retailers could easily boot such brands—and despite the growth of e-commerce, 90% of all purchases still happen in brick-and-mortar stores.
When Amazon.com first entered the marketplace in 1995, it was just an online book peddler. Since then, it’s become a platform where we truly can buy anything. The company’s fantastic reach has delivered a challenge to almost every retailer, both online and brick-and-mortar.
Amazon sells more apparel than any retailer except Walmart. On the digital front, the Amazon Prime premium service gives subscribers free delivery and streaming access to award-winning programs. Amazon Music Unlimited is a competitor to Spotify and Apple Music. And now in Echo, its hands-free speaker powered by its proprietary Alexa voice service, the company is delivering the next must-have consumer tech product, the hub for everything in your home. Beyond a new piece of hardware, it gives Amazon yet more valuable data on its users.
Thanks to Amazon Marketing Services, they even have an effective alternative to Google’s advertising program, AdWords. “This is a whole new revenue stream for them, and I believe it is going to be hugely profitable,” says Rob Gardner, ZEITGUIDE friend and CEO of Joovy, an e-commerce site for baby gear. “It will take pressure off them to raise their margins, which will bring more value to the consumer too.”
Amazon’s ambitions have even extended to competing with its delivery partners UPS and FedEx. The company currently has a fleet of airplanes, and there’s talk that it may buy bankrupt Hanjin Shipping, the seventh largest shipper in the world.
While Amazon’s domination of the retail landscape can be frustrating for other retailers and brands, there’s much to learn from its growth. One lesson that’s emerging: To compete today, delivering goods to the consumer in easier, faster and more convenient ways is crucial.
Can anything hold Amazon back? Or is the smarter move to go with the flow? As Gardner, whose company sells on its own direct-to-consumer website as well as WeChat and Amazon, told us, “We will keep going where Amazon goes.”
Digital shopping in China looks less omnichannel and more monochannel. Mobile transactions are estimated to account for nearly three quarters of all e-commerce transactions in China by 2018.
WeChat, a mobile messaging app with more than 800 million active monthly users, is a big reason for this. It allows users to share live updates, send voice, video and text messages, shop online, transfer payments, book tickets, make hospital appointments, buy groceries, find one-night stands and exchange business cards. It also has an interactive “shake” feature that some brands have used to engage with live audiences on TV.
Significantly, more than a third of users are making e-commerce purchases through the WeChat app.
Is this the future for the West? For the most part, our messaging platforms are still strictly for messaging. But efforts such as Facebook Messenger adding bots that give you news updates from The New York Times or let you shop eBay show a push to become the next WeChat. “Companies that want a glimpse of the future of mobile commerce,” says The Economist, “should look not just to Silicon Valley, but also to the other side of the Pacific.”
How are legacy retailers responding to this competitive environment? Walmart bought Amazon competitor Jet and is opening robot-staffed warehouses to match Amazon’s product-sorting technology. Target is closing stores to improve remaining ones, and other retailers are upgrading their websites to allow shoppers to order goods online, then pick them up at a brick-and-mortar location (a process known as click-and-collect in industry circles).
These innovations, however, don’t address a larger shift: consumers are spending more of their disposable income on experiences, such as travel and dining, instead of durable goods. “There’s been so much innovation happening in the retail space digitally,” says ZEITGUIDE friend Rachel Shechtman, CEO of Story, a space that has the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store. “No one has thought about how to make the live shopping experience innovative.” This issue was at the center of a panel we produced with our friend Pam Kaufman, Nickelodeon CMO & president of consumer products, at Advertising Week in New York.
In last year’s ZEITGUIDE, Kaufman introduced the concept of the third screen, in which television is the first screen, mobile the second and retail spaces the third when it comes to reaching consumers and telling a brand’s story. On the retail screen, commerce merges with content to create entertaining experiences within the store. “I want kids to be dragging their parents to our stores because they want to see what’s going on at Toys “R” Us this weekend,” said its CEO, Dave Brandon.
Michael Goldban, SVP for retail leasing at Brookfield Property Partners, told us how shopping spaces need to be programmed into a “millennial playground.” Examples include using street performers or art installations to draw a crowd around a storefront. Some grocery stores have even turned to offering yoga or spa treatments.
But there’s another step to truly capturing consumers’ attention.
“Stores have to provide two things—delight and efficacy,” ZEITGUIDE friend and Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp told us. Her company is among a number of prominent e-tailers opening physical retail locations. In Birchbox’s physical store in New York, every part of the experience, from the layout of the products to the approach of sales people, extends the ethos of the company’s online subscription service. Shoppers can learn about new products in a way that is personalized and makes them feel like part of a larger community.
This community approach has also been a renewed focus of Apple stores under the direction of former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts. “We want to be more like a town square,” Ahrendts told Fortune, “where the best of Apple comes together and everyone is welcome.”
The fashion industry is in need of a makeover. Before digital disruption, fashion shows would be reported in Vogue and other consumer publications. Consumers would see celebrities wear the garments in Us Weekly, and then would have to wait six months to find the pieces in stores.
Today’s fashion followers don’t even wait for the next issue of Vogue, as Cherie Serota wrote in Women’s Wear Daily. They watch live-streamed fashion shows and devotedly follow fashion bloggers and Instagram feeds. “They’re not going to save a picture of it and then go look for it six months later,” designer Tamara Mellon told the Wall Street Journal. “They’ve moved on.”
Fashion houses are looking for solutions to this I-want-it-now mentality. Rebecca Minkoff and Burberry have moved to a see-now/buy-now system called Show and Shop, putting their New York Fashion Week runway designs immediately on sale. The New York Times called Burberry’s move “the biggest shake-up of the fashion show system since ready-to-wear took to the catwalk.” The brand went a step further at London Fashion Week by presenting clothes that were not only unisex, but seasonless.
As department stores struggle to keep pace, many designers are expanding their ability to sell directly. Of note is Coach chairman Silas Chou’s investment in PredictSpring, a mobile commerce platform created by the former head of Google Shopping.
By hosting their own online platforms, brands and designers open a direct line of contact to build relationships with (and gather data on) their customers. “It used to be that you sat in your ivory tower and dictated what the trends were going to be,” Tamara Mellon continued. “Today there is much more involvement from the customer.”
Androgynous attire is finding a home in non-tomboy closets. Clothing company Older Brother finds its gender-neutral designs are popular with men and women around the world. Kirrin Finch, who designs consciously queer clothes for women, has found straight women dig a well-made poplin shirt too. Not even undergarments are immune: boyshorts have become a staple of lingerie collections. Billboards and magazine ads feature women in menswear blazers and men donning tank tops and necklaces. “Androgyny is not a trend anymore,” says Eric Korman, founder of Phlur, a unisex fragrance company. “It’s a shift in behavior and expectation.”
Stretchy workout clothes are doubling as daywear. The comfort and functionality of modern stretch fabrics are “the driving forces in what consumers want and how they’re picking their clothing,” says Emma McClendon, an assistant curator at the Museum at FIT. Yoga pants, tracksuits and sweatpants remain strong sellers, and designers are incorporating more comfort into their designs. In terms of footwear, with its ZeroGrands Cole Haan continues to strike the balance of stylish shoes that feel like you’re wearing sneakers.
Overseen by renegade Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia, the Parisian fashion house Vetements was the celebrity go-to brand of 2016. Its specialties, toss-on closet staples minus excess frills, have led the revival of the oversized, angsty look that’s gaining widespread traction everywhere now. High-fashion and streetwear websites can’t tell a story that doesn’t include Vetements, says ZEITGUIDE friend and art insider Jane Denton.
That clean white t-shirt comes from a dirty crop. Cotton cultivation accounts for more than 15% of global insecticide use and way too much water. The Better Cotton Initiative—a coalition of farmers, garment makers and retailers—has been working to improve cotton production environmentally, socially and economically around the globe. It’s starting to make a dent: Better Cotton-produced cotton was 12% of global cotton production in 2015, according to the initiative.
Alicia Keys arrived makeup-less at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards and will from now on wear makeup only when she chooses. Her stance has inspired Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Laverne Cox and 12 million Instagram followers—along with other fans—to join her. Be ready to see more naked faces on social media and at public events.
Every day, malicious developers submit fraudulent shopping apps disguised as well-known retail brand names into Apple’s App Store and pay to have them wind up first on your search list. Some are harmless, but others contain malware or try to harvest personal information like Facebook login information or credit card numbers. Apple can’t keep up with them because they simply change the content of the app, names or credentials and resubmit the app after Apple screens them out.
Despite an increasingly fragmented media landscape, TV execs have long been able to rely on live sports to attract big ratings—and big checks from advertisers.
Now even this sure thing is faltering. Leagues are struggling to fully harness the interest and passion of fans. Ratings are down, especially for the NFL. New forms of entertainment, like e-sports, are chipping away at the younger fan base.
While media execs and leagues try to figure out what this means, it is still clear that a good matchup goes a long way. Game 7 of the Cubs-Indians 2016 World Series was the most watched baseball game in 25 years. But the Cubs winning a World Series is, after all, a once-in-a century event.
What does the future of sports look like? Our guess is fans will spend more time engaging with sports, though not necessarily by watching the games themselves. This array of sports to watch beyond the major leagues and far beyond Monday Night Football draws their attention in even more directions.
As sportswriter Chris Korman wrote at For The Win, “You don’t have to watch the game anymore to be a ‘real’ fan.”
Live sports, long a sure bet for media companies, have seen explosive growth in rights fees. But the days of them delivering ever higher ratings appear to be passing. The Rio Olympics witnessed 15% lower ratings than those of the London Olympics. The supremely popular English Premier League saw ratings dip 19% in 2016.
Even the mighty NFL experienced a 10% drop in ratings through the first quarter of the 2016 season. Some in the league blamed the election, as the first two presidential debates competed directly with primetime NFL games. Others suggested that political demonstrations by certain players turned off some viewers. Meanwhile, many fans pointed to a lower quality of play, stemming from overly-zealous of officiating and a lack of player preparation due to practice restrictions in the league’s bargaining agreement.
The most likely reason seems to be one of over-saturation. Football attendance used to be like going to church; you only had to come around on Sundays to be a fan. Now there’s Thursday Night Football and even Sunday morning NFL games broadcast from London.
Most alarming for the NFL is that ratings were down 24% among men age 18-34. Overall, audiences for the biggest sporting events are getting smaller and older, which is not an encouraging sign for the future of leagues and broadcasters. This development is less surprising given the way many sports execs have approached younger audiences and their preferred viewing habits.
“My prediction would be that millennials have been in a Facebook bubble or a Snapchat bubble and the Olympics have come—and they didn’t know it,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said by way of explaining a potential dip in Olympics ratings.
But perhaps the opposite is true; if anything, social media makes fans too aware of what’s happening. As sportswriter Ken Early summed it up in The Irish Times, “It has become possible to watch nothing, and yet miss nothing.”
Check Twitter during any major sporting event and you’ll see big plays turned almost immediately into GIFs, fans tweeting their gripes about play-calling and images from the crowd turned into real-time memes. This interaction enhances the experience of watching sports, as well as the feeling of community created between perfect strangers.
Platforms like Twitter are eager to build on this fan engagement. Through deals such as the one Twitter struck with the NFL to broadcast 10 Thursday night games during the 2016 season, social networks haven’t just become a virtual watercooler for talking sports, but also a place to watch them. Will it work? Hard to say. Twitter’s first Thursday night effort didn’t attract the anticipated audience.
Still, many sports broadcasters try to suppress rather than embrace this dynamic. Tweet a GIF of an Olympic highlight, and your account is shut down. The NFL even cracked down on its own franchises for tweeting highlights or playful memes during the games.
Is it productive for execs in the sports business to think of social platforms as competitors? Or should more of them instead consider how to use these channels to enhance the connection between viewers and the sport itself?
If traditional sports continue to lose traction with younger viewers, networks are prepared to trot out new options. E-sports, also referred to as competitive gaming, may be one such new option. The most popularly played video games in such competitions, such as League of Legends and Call of Duty, typically involve a team-style competition played in an open map. The aim is usually straightforward: kill members of the other team to score points. But how this is accomplished can involve as much strategy and preparation as a Bill Belichick game plan for the Super Bowl.
And the market for e-sports, in which two-thirds of all fans fall into the coveted 18-34 age bracket, continues to grow. Globally, e-sports events attracted some 214 million viewers in 2016. TBS premiered an e-sports championship series, joining networks such as ESPN and the CW in broadcasting the games. Facebook plans to stream e-sports events as well. In September of 2016, the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers became the first professional sports team to acquire an e-sports team, snapping up two regular competitors from the League of Legends Championship Series.
But video gaming isn’t the only future-forward sport. Drone racing entered that conversation in a serious way in 2016.
In the Drone Racing League, racers use a 3D headset linked to a camera on their drones to steer through an obstacle course. The league isn’t alone in this space. The 2016 Drone Nationals were streamed on ESPN3 in October of 2016, with the World Drone Prix in Dubai last March awarding over $1 million in prize money.
E-sports and new endeavors such as drone racing increasingly look commercially viable: their fans are just as passionate as those into the major sports leagues. Ironically, some have already faced the same issues plaguing other pro sports, such as performance-enhancing drugs. That’s right: professional Halo players on Adderall.
Is no sport safe from doping?
For as long as there has been competition, there have been those seeking ways of enhancing their chances.
2016 saw a host of scandals related to doping. At the Rio Olympics, a call went out to ban the entire Russian delegation as a result of a state-sponsored doping program. The World Anti-Doping Agency called the scandal “a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games.” A reexamination of blood tests from the 2008 and 2012 games implicated an additional 98 athletes for doping; many of them were medalists.
What qualifies as doping in sports? Elite athletes most commonly turn to blood doping or lean muscle builders like human growth hormone or anabolic steroids. But it turns out a lot of things can get athletes in trouble. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency annually compiles a list of hundreds of these banned substances for the Olympic team.
The thing about muscle-building drugs is that they’re often taken long before the actual competition, thus requiring a regime of testing not just before or after a game, but even off-season. And the issue is further complicated for testing organizations by the fact that many banned drugs can be legally prescribed, while others are available over-the-counter.
What’s more, professional sports leagues all have their own rules surrounding doping. For instance, the NFL didn’t start testing for HGH until 2014, but also hasn’t caught any player using it—which plenty of observers find improbable.
Leagues universally claim to oppose doping. Banning the practice is meant to keep competition fair. But with so many athletes finding ways to beat the testing system, many say they take performance enhancers because everyone else is doing it. As former professional cyclist Jonathan Vaughters wrote in The New York Times, “Almost every athlete I’ve met who has doped will say they did it only because they wanted a level playing field.”
With professional sports a $67 billion a year industry in North America alone today, is anyone truly interested in stamping out performance-enhancing drugs? Does doping even dent the reputation of players, teams or leagues? Nike, for instance, revived its multi-million-dollar endorsement deal with tennis star Maria Sharapova despite her two-year suspension from pro tennis for doping.
Perhaps one way to curb the practice is to extend punishments beyond athletes to the teams and organizations that benefit from doping. Athletes are hardly the only ones to see a payoff, though they are the only ones to risk physical harm. Given the potential rewards of excelling at a given sport, it’s understandable that many athletes are willing to go to such lengths to gain an advantage—and that leagues turn a blind eye when they can.
Athletes have historically been tied to political and social causes. No one has better exemplified the intersection of politics and sports than Muhammad Ali. The boxer famously refused to enter the armed services in opposition to the Vietnam War. “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor, hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,” he proclaimed at the time. “And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me.”
For taking this stand, Ali faced arrest and the revocation of his titles and boxing license. He lost four prime years as a fighter in legal battles to regain his ability to compete. But he would emerge from this to become an iconic figure who transcended sports—a point made clear in the many tributes after his death.
As reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James remarked at the ESPY Awards not long after Ali’s passing, “Tonight we’re honoring Muhammad Ali … But to do his legacy any justice, let’s use this moment as a call to action to all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up [and] use our influence.”
James’ remarks follow years in which athletes have taken increasingly high-profile political stances. But while not free from criticism, such displays from athletes today have increasingly gained public support. When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first ignited the national anthem controversy by sitting during the anthem preceding his team’s third preseason game, his jersey became the best-selling in the NFL in the weeks following. President Obama even weighed in with his support.
“These guys put themselves in a leadership position,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told B/R Mag, going on to say that many players felt they would be judged as much by the actions they take in the community as the plays they make on the court.
Not long ago, fans depended on sportswriters’ published reports in order to form their impressions of players, coaches and teams. Now, fans have almost as much access as reporters do. Athletes can promote a message through social media and sites such as The Players’ Tribune, which attributes posts to the athletes themselves. Game replays, press conference transcripts and injury reports are also more widely disseminated online.
This widespread availability of information has given rise to amateur scouts, bloggers and talking heads outside the mainstream media. For years, newspaper writers scoffed at the idea that bloggers writing from their parents’ basements might steal their jobs. However, young fans aren’t reading the local sports section anymore. Instead, they’re likely to head to sites like Barstool Sports, Deadspin or SB Nation. Unsurprisingly, the ability of such sites to draw hardcore fans has gotten the attention of media giants.
Acquiring Deadspin, for example, was part of Univision’s interest in buying Gawker for $135 million, just as the appeal of SB Nation helped pull in hundreds of millions in investment dollars to parent company Vox Media. On a smaller scale, Peter Chernin’s Chernin Group scooped up Barstool Sports for close to $15 million.
The bidding wars for the most popular sports personalities have been equally intense. It wasn’t too long ago that Bill Simmons began to commercialize this populist approach to sports writing with The Sports Guy, his column on AOL. Today, Simmons is said to have received $7 million a year to produce his now-deceased show for HBO and helm The Ringer website, an offshoot of his ESPN pet project Grantland. Skip Bayless was given a $5 million a year deal to jump from ESPN to competing network FS1, which in 2015 also ponied up more than $6 million a year to bring in Colin Cowherd.
But much like signing a player away from a great team, signing personalities away from ESPN has proven to carry some risk. It can be hard to distinguish whom fans tune in for versus who merely benefits from the network’s stout viewership. Ratings for Simmons’ Wednesday night show on HBO started poorly and only sank lower before HBO cut the cord on it after five months. Cowherd saw his viewership initially fall off a cliff in his switch to FS1, though his show did make gains to end 2016. The personality who has most successfully carried his audience over so far is Skip Bayless, perhaps the most ardent contrarian (or troll, in the eyes of some) in the sports media landscape today. His Undefeated on FS1 picked up major steam after its first month.
The five-year O’Bannon v NCAA legal battle came to some degree of conclusion when the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. That let stand a confusing Ninth Circuit ruling that found the NCAA guilty of anti-trust collusion, but without a real remedy for compensating players for the commercial use of their names, images and likenesses beyond tuition, room and board. There’s another case in the pipeline, though, Jenkins v NCAA, that suggests colleges should have to compete for top recruits. That could once again crack open the door to paid college athletes.
Kobe Bryant made hundreds of millions during his NBA career. He’s putting some of it to work in a new $100 million investment fund focused on media, technology and data. Many retired athletes have tried—and failed—to start or back new businesses. Some call such celebrity investments “dumb money,” suggesting this is where startups go when better-known VC funds won’t back them. But it can work out. New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony’s Melo 7 Tech Partners has backed about 20 businesses since 2013, six of which have been sold.
Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James is taking his MVP fame to the producer’s chair. His CNBC reality TV show “Cleveland Hustles” premiered in 2016 and has been renewed for a second season. It’s a “Shark Tank”/“Apprentice”-inspired program about local entrepreneurs in Cleveland. In James’ eyes, the show is a way for him to give back to his community by supporting local businesses.
Retired NFL lineman Eugene Monroe is among a number of former athletes touting the virtues of marijuana as an alternative to often-dangerous prescription painkillers. But as it stands, the NFL and most other sports leagues prohibit the drug. Will the legalization of pot in a growing number of states eventually compel these leagues to change their stance?
Want to eat like quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots? You can buy his cookbook for a mere $200. Of course he doesn’t call it a cookbook. He calls it a “nutrition manual,” probably because a personal chef actually prepares his food. The 89 recipes are free not only of added sugars, fatty meats and dairy, but also of nightshades, like tomatoes and peppers, that Brady believes cause inflammation. Yes, he’s won four Super Bowls. But can you trust someone like him, who’s never had a cup of coffee?
The AP, working with Automated Insights, already publishes automated stories on college baseball games. Is automatically-generated coverage of every sporting event far off? Sports journos obviously hope not. So does Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. When ESPN decided not to have a full-time beat reporter covering his team, Cuban saw it marking a first step toward eliminating human reporters. He responded by temporarily yanking the cable and satellite channel’s two press credentials.
Much to the chagrin of tech investors, the art world has yet to be disrupted by technology. In this arena, it’s still about who and what you know, and technology merely remains a way of cataloging data, tracking value and distributing knowledge. It hasn’t yet remade the market itself.
When buying a work of art, most of us need to see it in person–though that seems to be changing with the latest generation of buyers. The 2016 American Attitudes Towards Art survey showed that more than half of millennials are willing to purchase art online, compared to less than a fifth of boomers. A quarter of millennials even said they preferred shopping at online art marketplaces to buying in person.
“Just as U.S. retail, restaurant and hospitality industries have wielded major digital-first transformations over the last decade … our survey findings reveal that millennials’ mobile- first preferences are driving similar demand from the art industry,” said Rob Weisberg, CEO of online marketplace Invaluable.
Dominant art dealers like Larry Gagosian, who just opened a gallery in San Francisco to service the Silicon Valley crowd, think differently. “We’re not selling widgets,” Gagosian has said. “There’s a paradox here. All business wants a bigger market. All business wants to be global. All business wants more customers. But the reality with art is—its strength is exclusivity.
“If everybody was into art, I think they would have to invent something else to call it.”
The global art market dipped in 2015, the first time it had seen a contraction in the previous four years. The European Fine Art Foundation reported in 2016 that the market was down 7% overall that year, with fewer transactions and less revenue at the auction houses.
However, the United States’ market grew by 4%, even as the Chinese market dropped 23%. The wealthy were doing the bulk of the shopping, as works selling for over $1 million made up 57% of all auction sales.
For those seeking smaller price tags, emerging artists’ work is a less costly but riskier choice. Heavily-hyped emerging artists, primarily men in their early 20s, showed weak secondary-market sales in the fall auctions, with many works selling for a fraction of their most recent selling price. Some collector-investors are being blamed for building these markets without academic or institutional support, selling artworks back and forth in an expensive game of hot potato.
The good news is that quality still rules, and artists with support beyond the art-flipping crowd are doing well. To ZEITGUIDE friend and art consultant Elana Rubinfeld (also a major contributor to this chapter), “The takeaway is to buy with your heart—and plan on keeping and loving the art you collect for a while.”
With the recent closing of prominent mid-tier galleries such as Lisa Cooley in New York and Thomas Duncan in Los Angeles, it seems Artnews’ assessment that the middle of the market has fallen out might hold weight. The site speculated that mid-tier galleries are struggling to adapt to new streams of revenue, unfamiliar players and confusing fluctuations in the market.
The galleries that seem to be thriving fall into two categories: the behemoths of the art world and the scrappy new operations. Gagosian is expanding to San Francisco; likewise, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Maccarone Gallery and Venus are opening West Coast operations. Also doing well are emerging galleries with smaller staff and lower overhead, such as the new expansions of New York’s Chapter Gallery and London’s Limoncello Gallery.
Despite the closures of mid-tier players, galleries are still important to collectors and artists alike. As artist Jeff Koons put it, “The art world is a community, and everyone has their role. I like to think about my work, I like to concentrate on my work, I really don’t like to be involved so directly in the economic aspect of it.” The gallery allows the artist to focus on their work, often taking on a substantial financial risk to promote it.
In response to the challenges of running and keeping a gallery in cities like New York, dealers including Stefania Bortolami started Artist/City, which helps place art in unconventional spaces, typically at no charge to the artist. Examples have included an abandoned hospital, a former Taco Bell and a vacant building in an IKEA parking lot. Bortolami hopes this movement will “bring the discourse back to art.” Art Markets are commercial and corporate. Galleries are quiet and cold. Perhaps seeing art in everyday spaces will make it more accessible.
The Broad in Los Angeles, The Brant Foundation in Greenwich and Pier 24 in San Francisco are recently founded, privately-funded American museums. The Hill Art Foundation, the first private museum in New York exclusively exhibiting a founder’s collection, will open in 2017. While these museums are a welcome addition to the cultural landscape, they are also widely seen as vanity projects and tax havens for the mega-rich.
There is a long history of private museums being founded by the wealthy in America, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art probably being the best known. As the Larry’s List 2015 Private Art Museum report recounts, personal collections have previously evolved into such cherished institutions as the Frick Collection in New York and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Both debuted in private residences, showcasing masterpieces acquired by wealthy art aficionados.
Musing on the notion of private museums, Bettina Korek, ZEITGUIDE friend and founder of For Your Art in Los Angeles, noted, “People who were once so important to supporting art institutions are now opening their own museums. As museums lose their patronage, opportunities open for other funding, particularly for corporate patrons. This corporate funding can take the place of museum funding that otherwise would have been lost once board members decided to leave and open their own museums.”
But with a sole founder, do private museums have a sustainable operating plan? “These museums have to take a hard look at what and why they are doing it,” says Korek. “Forever is a long time. Not all of these individuals have a plan to look after what they’re setting up.”
Women, African-Americans and artists representing both groups were featured prominently in dozens of exhibitions in 2016, including two in New York: Kerry James Marshall’s show at the new Met Breuer and Coming to Power: 25 Years of Sexually X-plicit Art by Women at the Maccarone Gallery. Notably, the first show at the Los Angeles outpost of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel exclusively featured female artists, as well.
The expanded presence of female artists in exhibitions felt like an extension of the larger cultural conversation about women in power. In a discussion at the Vera List Center, Director of the Brooklyn Museum Anne Pasternak stated, “I am a firm believer that culture produces social change, so if our cultural sphere isn’t doing the work it needs to do in term of gender equity, then there is very little hope for society and for the future of being female. And that social change, of course, leads to policy and political change.”
The Hammer Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and countless other institutions organized solo museum exhibitions of black artists’ works in a year saturated with news about #blacklivesmatter and racial disharmony. Artnews’ list of the top 10 Black Artists to Celebrate in 2016 cataloged some of the up-and-comers creating unforgettable paintings, installations and performance pieces.
During an interview on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” a member of The Guerrilla Girls group, the anonymous collective that has been championing gender equality since the mid-1980s, explained why it matters that we support women and artists of color. “If all the [cultural] decisions are being made by the same people, then the art will never look like the whole of our culture. Right now the art world is run by billionaire art collectors who buy art that appeals to their values. We say that art should look like the rest of our culture. Unless all voices in our culture are [recorded] in the history of art, then it’s not really the history of art—it’s the history of power.”
This year San Francisco celebrated the grand re-opening of an expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Larry Gagosian opened his first space in the city, Pace Gallery expanded into Palo Alto and Pace Art + Technology opened a few blocks away in Menlo Park. In addition to being home to these exhibition spaces, San Francisco has the FOG Design+Art fair and the newly announced UNTITLED, an art fair which will be expanding from Miami to the Dogpatch neighborhood for its inaugural show in January 2017.
It’s clear that these institutions, art fairs and galleries are seeking attention—most likely that of the newly wealthy of the city’s tech industry. “If you look at the upper crust of San Francisco, there are a lot of resources to support the arts,” noted ZEITGUIDE friend Elissa Patel, a Bay Area art and tech insider and artist. “Gagosian and SFMOMA are trying to get to a new tech customer. There is a lot of crossover trying to happen, but even then a lot of people are having a hard time getting tech companies to support the art world.”
The challenge may be rooted in the area’s culture of work, Patel explained. “You have people who are saying, ‘I’m working all the time,’ and art is grouped with leisure; therefore it’s not as important.”
As real estate costs skyrocket, there’s also an exodus of young artists out of the city. If San Francisco is going to foster and propel a thriving art scene into the future, galleries and museums will have to bridge the gap between the area’s business and creative cultures.
ZEITGUIDE friend Shepard Fairey once would have been charged with vandalism for putting his art on buildings. Today, he sees the designers of buildings as partners in the societal dialogue of public art and public space.
“There’s this really powerful movement toward design for good, using the visual aesthetic to trigger a call to action or social movement,” says Victoria Yarnish, supervising director of Fairey’s creative agency, Studio Number One. “This includes architects increasingly allowing for the incorporation of space for public art on and within their buildings.”
Contributing to this shift in thinking is the belief that virtual spaces have isolated us, and physical spaces must be part of the remedy. Charles Renfro, ZEITGUIDE friend and partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, for instance, echoes a widely-held perspective that the promise of the internet to create a more open and democratic society has failed. Instead, web users are more segmented than ever, operating within a bubble filled only with opinions that support and confirm what they already believe.
Civic-minded architects, then, view bursting that bubble as something public spaces can do. “We need to make architecture that brings people together, in creative collaboration, in discourse and argument, in understanding and peace,” as Renfro told us. “Architecture needs to use its power as an agent for social change—to do good in this world.”
He hopes his company’s most recent project, the Berkeley Art Museum, can serve that end for visitors. It’s a free museum, open to the city street. It is bold architecture, he says, that is “completely engaged in the community, programmatically and architecturally … The main spaces in the building can be used as gallery, theater, gathering spot or demonstration space.”
ZEITGUIDE friend Marc Kushner, co-founder and CEO of Architizer, a database for architecture and building products, added that architecture overall is becoming less driven by rigid design movements—and that represents progress. “The rules served the movement rather than the people who interacted with buildings,” he said. But “rules are fading,” and architects today are “trying to connect with the public to find an emotional reaction to buildings.”
Extreme heat kills more Americans annually than hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and lightning combined. As global warming accelerates, the death toll could climb to 11,000 or more per year by 2030.
Improving air conditioning units is not the only solution to keeping cool without warming the planet. Building design has long been used to offset oppressive temperatures—one example being long, narrow shotgun-style homes that increase air flow with doors at either end, while in ancient Egyptian architecture courtyards did the same. Builders abandoned these methods once air conditioning let them build cheaper, albeit much hotter, structures.
Today marks a return to architecture as a solution. In India, the design of the Jaipur campus of the Pearl Academy of Fashion incorporates a stepwell, or the Hindu baoli. A pool of water sits in the center of the building, providing evaporative cooling that makes the interior consistently 20 degrees cooler than the outside.
In Amsterdam, a planned hotel called Breeze will use a climate cascade to cool the building sans air conditioning. Instead, wind turbines above the roof will draw in air, which will then be sprayed by streams of water to cool it before it flows through the rooms. A solar chimney lifts hot air up and out of the building simultaneously.
Who says museums are stuck in their ways? The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, one of the first major museums on Snapchat, gets around 85,000 views per “snap.” It has more than 2 million followers across all its social platforms, and even curates local photography on the Visual Supply Co platform. The Art Institute of Chicago, meanwhile, has had guest artists “take over” its Instagram account. Says Karen Frascona of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which you can also find on Snapchat, “We’re trying to explain things and expose our works of art to people who may never have come to our museum.”
“I think it’s interesting that there are two major video art exhibitions, Pipilotti Rist at New Museum, where you lie on beds and watch projections on the ceilings, and Dreamlands at the Whitney,” ZEITGUIDE friend Ed Spurr, director of the Bortolami Gallery, told us. The latter, Susan Delson wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “presents a bracingly different take on the moving image—not as something to catch on your phone or binge-watch on weekends, but a full-body experience engaging all the senses.”
“The Next Rembrandt,” an ad agency project for ING Bank, used facial recognition software and a machine-learning algorithm to analyze hundreds of Rembrandt portraits and then generate a new painting in the artist’s style on a 3D printer. The Tate Britain, meanwhile, awarded its 2016 IK Prize for digital creativity to Recognition, an AI program designed to match daily news photographs with one of the 30,000 artworks in that museum’s collection. The intention, according to the Tate: “to help us see the masterpieces through the lens of modern culture.”
In 2015, Mary Meeker’s coveted annual internet trend report forecast an increase in “Vertical Viewing” as more consumers engaged with video on their smart phones. Amy Cappellazzo, whose Art Agency Partners was purchased in 2016 by Sotheby’s for $85 million, sees more new vertical paintings than horizontal. She believes there may be a correlation.
As owner of The Two Percent, which gives VIP tours of outstanding galleries in New York, ZEITGUIDE friend David Behringer sees a lot of new artworks. Which exhibitions are standing out for him? Ones that “share the thrill of increasing technological advancements in art-making (3D printing, robotics, facial-recognition software), paired with a general uneasy vibe of isolation and surveillance in their messages.” Notable examples came from Josh Kline at 47 Canal, Jordan Wolfson at the David Zwirner Gallery and Random International at Pace Gallery.
The incredible level of human craftsmanship seen in many pre-war (built before WWII) buildings simply isn’t there in the glass, steel and concrete structures that abound today. As machines take on more of the work of constructing buildings, could that lead to a new wave of elaborately decorated structures? “The future of construction and manufacturing will be about leveraging technology,” ZEITGUIDE friend and Surface Magazine CEO Marc Lotenberg told us. “With robots, we’re going to see buildings return to an intricate level of detail and quality, even creating facades and spaces that weren’t possible before.”
In 2016, consensus was building around an international response to global warming—but that was the same year our planet hit a number of alarming milestones. The effects are rippling out in ways large and small. From giant storms and altered cloud patterns to a predicted coffee shortage that has caffeine junkies hoarding their beans, global warming is affecting our lives in ways that are more than theoretical.
Science and industry are pointing the way toward what’s next. Will it be fewer humans taxing planet Earth? Supermaterials that store energy? Or will we actually take off for other planets?
According to NASA, 2016 was the hottest year on historical record—for the third year running. Earth’s temperatures are increasing at an unprecedented rate, some 1.38˚C higher than recorded a century ago.
Also in 2016, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere stayed over the 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold for the entire year—for the first time in more than 3 million years. Not good.
Experts have long predicted that global warming, caused mostly by CO2 emissions, would lead to rising sea levels, but new climate models have scientists fearing the worst. The Antarctic ice sheet—about the size of Mexico—could start to disintegrate “within decades.” Current estimates project sea levels rising nearly two meters by the year 2100, which would leave almost 2 million U.S. homes underwater.
Climate scientists also say that rising temperatures and sea levels will pave the way for more Category 4 and 5 storms like 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. More intense floods, heat waves and wildfires are also being attributed to the changing global climate.
As the evidence continues to mount, governments around the globe are finally taking action. The United States, India and China—three of the world’s top carbon emitters—ratified the Paris Climate Change Agreement—the historic UN accord in which 190 nations agreed to reduce their CO2 emissions at home. The agreement, which officially went into effect on November 4, 2016 (not so coincidentally just before the U.S. Presidential election) includes language that does not allow any signatory nation to officially withdraw until 2020. But many environmental advocates now worry that, with President-elect Donald Trump’s firm opposition to the deal, the U.S. may simply ignore what the agreement compels its signees to do.
In October 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda, more than 170 countries agreed to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, those particularly potent greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners. That same month, representatives from 191 nations signed an agreement to cap CO2 emissions in aviation—a small industry with an outsized carbon footprint.
The three new climate deals have been criticized by scientists for being too weak. Certainly they are only a start when it comes to responding to the climate crisis before us. But the trio of agreements do represent movement. Now it’s left to see if a transfer of presidential power in the U.S. will undercut this for- ward progress and place the world’s most powerful nation back in an official state of denial.
If we are doomed to have more extreme weather events, then the least we can hope for is a bit of warning before the next massive storm.
But Hurricane Matthew completely snuck up on U.S. forecasters. The National Hurricane Center reclassified the storm from a Category 1 to Category 5 at the last minute. The storm killed 30 people in the U.S.—in part because it missed big cities here— but more than 1,000 in Haiti.
What gives? The problems seem to stem from poor data, poor modeling and, in the minds of certain critics, a poor organizational structure within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Not everyone’s weather model was so far off in tracking Matthew. Cliff Mass, a meteorologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, cited the higher accuracy achieved by both the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) model and the UK’s Meteorological Service.
Put simply, their systems get better resolution on the weather images they collect. Clearer information then leads to clearer results.
“It is time for U.S. weather modeling to become world-class again,” wrote Mass.
NOAA is counting on some of these concerns being remedied by the GOES-R satellite, launched in late 2016—the first of four new weather satellites coming online. Together, they represent the first significant upgrade to the U.S. weather system since the 1970s.
“For weather forecasters, GOES-R is like going from black and white to super-high-definition TV,” said Stephen Volz, assistant administrator for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service. “And for the American public, GOES-R will mean faster, more accurate weather forecasting and warning.”
Artificial intelligence could give forecasting another boost. IBM bought The Weather Company, the world’s largest weather enterprise, with the idea of running its massive amount of Internet of Things data—more than 40 million smartphones and 50,000 airplane flights a day—through the Watson platform. That should mean micro-forecasts, and also insights to benefit aviation, retailers, agriculture, insurance and more. As Weather Company CIO and CTO Bryson Koehler told InformationWeek: “Weather, at the end of the day, is the original big data problem.”
Whether we’re talking about the adamantium in Wolverine’s claws or the vibranium in Captain America’s shield, supermaterials were once the sole domain of superheroes.
Today’s nonfiction materials like graphene are more fantastic than anything Marvel Comics ever dreamed. This essentially 2D form of carbon, long theorized about before scientists managed to isolate it in 2004, weighs almost nothing, yet is 300 times stronger than steel. It’s one of a growing class of 2D materials—that is, materials made up of a single sheet of atoms.
By sandwiching such sheets together between thin layers of other elements, scientists have gone on recently to create a rash of new supermaterials. “Each one is like a Lego brick,” Andras Kis, a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, has said. “If you put them together, maybe you can build something completely new.”
Recent developments suggest supermaterials could revolutionize computing power, solar panels, physics research and perhaps, most exciting of all, build us better batteries. Think of charging your phone—or your electric car—in seconds instead of hours. “Graphene is also lighter and can present a higher active surface, so that more charge can be stored,” said Lucia Gauchia, a mechanical engineer at Michigan Technological University. Fisker Automotive is planning to debut an electric car incorporating this tech in 2017.
Scientists also have successfully experimented with feeding graphene and other materials to silkworms in an effort to make silk fibers stronger. On the simplest level, this could mean not worrying about tearing your favorite shirt. But it could also lead to wearable electronics, biodegradable medical implants and higher-resolution medical imaging.
Turns out the true color of space is green. Venture capitalists have invested well over $2 billion in space-related companies just since 2015. This commercial space race has given rise to a burgeoning industry of more than 800 companies.
One of the best-known, SpaceX, faced a major setback in its goal to make humans a “multiplanetary species” when its Falcon 9 rocket exploded in 2016. But founder Elon Musk was undaunted; just weeks later he outlined a plan to put humans on Mars by 2022.
The U.S. Congress, meantime, handed $19.5 billion to NASA with a mandate to put astronauts on Mars by 2041.
We’ll see who actually gets there first.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is pushing forward with his own space project, dubbed Blue Origin. His ultimate goal is to create the infrastructure in space that will allow future entrepreneurs to easily iterate and experiment beyond the boundaries of our own planet. During a Q&A at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, he outlined a plan for colonizing our solar system. More short-term, he wants to move heavy industry into space to protect the future health of planet Earth.
Virgin Galactic, owned by Richard Branson, is back in the game after its first spacecraft crashed back in 2014. Its second, SpaceShipTwo, took flight in 2016 in the company’s first successful test since the accident. Branson’s goals aren’t so lofty, though: he’s just looking to charge tourists a cool $250,000 to ascend 50 miles above Earth.
One thing enabling the rapid growth of private space companies is the hole left by the defunct Space Shuttle program. Since retiring the shuttles in 2011, NASA has been contracting with SpaceX and Boeing to transport cargoes and crews to the International Space Station.
Private space firms have other agendas, too. Musk, Branson and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are all vying to put satellites in orbit for the next generation of communications technology: space-based internet.
There’s also still some good old-fashioned international space-race rivalry. This time around, it’s the U.S. vs. China, and according to some commentators China is winning. The People’s Republic recently switched on the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope to map the formation of the universe and listen for signs of extraterrestrial life.
The Chinese might start by eavesdropping on the recently discovered Proxima B. This small planet is orbiting the star closest to our solar system, and scientists believe it might be capable of sustaining life a mere 4.2 light years away.
Birth rates are often seen as an indicator of a nation’s sense of optimism. “People’s willingness to have children is not only a sign of confidence in the future, but a sign of cultural health,” entrepreneur and business and economics reporter Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote in The Week.
This has led to some alarm over a decline in births in the United States. Lower rates of teen pregnancy are, of course, applauded—but the general trend of delaying or opting not to have children at all has some fearing for our economy.
Who will take the jobs when people retire? And who will fund the healthcare and social services that will be needed?
China offers an extreme case study. Currently there are five workers for every retiree. But because of its one-child policy that’s been in effect for many years now, this ratio will shrink to 1.6 workers per retiree by 2040.
Addressing these concerns may require a re-imagining of retirement, where workers gradually reduce their hours over many years.
Slower population growth has a silver lining: less environmental strain on the planet. As it is, total global population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100.
Maybe by that point, there’ll be extra space on Proxima B.
There is an exception to today’s slowing population growth: Africa, which will account for 54% of the world’s population growth by 2050 and 82% by 2100. So while much of the planet grapples with not having enough young people, the African continent is contending with creating enough educational and economic opportunities to support its population boom.
Mel Brooks’ satirical take on canned air in “Spaceballs” wasn’t far off. Companies are selling bottled air, taken from the beaches of Australia, the Canadian Rockies and the coast of Wales, to consumers in China seeking a breath of refreshment on smoggy days.
A report from the World Wildlife Fund declaring that global wildlife populations have declined by an average of 58% since 1970 underscored the threat of extinction facing many species. How serious is this 6th mass extinction? The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is responding by storing the cells of about 1,000 species and sub-species in a massive freezer. It’s a working scientific catalog of cells, but also a sort of ark for de-extinction.
Nearly two-thirds of our own planet’s surface is unexplored because it’s underwater. But the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans hopes to resolve this issue once and for all by creating a comprehensive map of Earth’s ocean floor by 2030. Such a map could not only be of assistance to the world’s navies, it could lead to the discovery of potentially valuable ore-bearing geological formations.
Tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel and Bill Gates have all tried to make their mark on education. To the list, add Google veteran Max Ventilla, founder of AltSchool. This private, for-profit network of micro schools uses apps, tablets, big data and the Silicon Valley ethos of “fail fast and fail forward” to create an individualized education plan for every kid, tailored to whatever engages them. But while this approach might work in building a 21st-century corporation, critics fear that students will suffer while AltSchool works out its kinks.
Business leaders need to take a cue from scientists when they are looking to innovate, says ZEITGUIDE friend Beth Comstock, Vice Chair at GE. “Instead of asking, ‘What’s the right answer?’ the question is: ‘What is your hypothesis?’ Then, ‘What are you going to test to see if your hypothesis is correct?’” And no one wants to fail, so instead of having the directive be to fail fast, have it be to iterate fast. “It’s ‘how quickly can you get me the first version?’” Comstock adds, “instead of saying, ‘take your time and get it perfect.’”
No industry needs a digital upgrade more than health care. While the Affordable Care Act has resulted in some 20 million more Americans with insurance coverage, the entire $3 trillion industry still seems largely untransformed by technology—unless you consider text reminders of your dental appointment great progress.
Steve Case, CEO of the VC firm Revolution and author of 2016’s “The Third Wave: A Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future,” says we may have to wait for what he calls “the third wave” of the digital revolution. That stage—probably a decade or more off—is when the internet will be connected “in seamless and pervasive ways, sometimes even invisible ways, throughout our lives.”
That, Case says, will finally transform industries like health care that so far have been changed only superficially by the internet. But he also warns that third-wave innovations will continue to take time and perseverance. They will demand strategic partnerships and a focus on policy—not coding marathons in a dorm room or garage.
That’s because the ultimate solution won’t come with a single app or piece of software. As ZEITGUIDE friend and physician Jordan Shlain told us, “You can’t sprinkle technology on a broken system and expect that to fix it.”
With Republican control of the White House and Congress, will we see the end to the Affordable Care Act—the ACA, also widely known as Obamacare?
While flawed, the ACA’s subsidies and expansion of Medicaid have given “millennials, freelancers, entrepreneurs and more workers more flexibility and portability in their benefits,” according to Benjamin Geyerhahn, ZEITGUIDE friend and founder of BeneStream, a startup that enrolls qualified workers in Medicaid.
The percentage of Americans without health insurance fell from 16% in 2010 to 9% in 2015. Thanks to federal subsidies available under the Affordable Care Act, 80% of Americans with incomes under 150% of the federal poverty level who are eligible to use the Obamacare insurance exchanges have now enrolled in health plans.
But the story is a bit different for those with high and middle incomes who don’t qualify for subsidized premiums: They have found coverage in the insurance exchanges no more affordable than those in the individual policy market (though at least they can’t be excluded for pre-existing conditions). In 2015, 5.6 million taxpayers opted to pay the penalty for gong without insurance.
With fewer profitable (i.e., young and healthy) customers than anticipated, some of the country’s biggest insurance carriers—Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare—have dropped out of some state marketplaces. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2017 21% of marketplaces will offer only one insurance plan. The ensuing lack of competition allows premiums to rise even more—giving young people and those just beyond the threshold for subsidies even less incentive to enroll in a health plan.
Policymakers agree that changes need to be made to the ACA if this isn’t to become a vicious circle—but they disagree on what these changes should be. Democrats largely want a public insurance option, something like Medicare for all, to be an alternative to private insurance. Republicans, meanwhile, have long rallied around cries to repeal and replace the ACA entirely. That may just happen. But it is unclear what, exactly, would replace it, or even how long implementing any changes would take.
As we learned from ZEITGUIDE friends Marshall Van Alstyne, an information markets expert, industry analyst Sangeet Paul Choudary and management science specialist Geoffrey Parker, three data-driven developments are also facilitating change in the healthcare industry.
First, individuals have more access to information about their health than ever before. With health apps, trackers and other gadgets, they can develop and manage diet and fitness regimens.
As one example, Aetna will develop apps for Apple’s iOS and subsidize Apple Watches for its employees, for starters, and later for some of Apple’s insurance subscribers. The idea is that apps could help manage care, remind patients to take their prescriptions and even integrate medical payments into Apple Wallet. The aggregate data collected could also be used to adjust premiums for those who, for example, have met fitness targets.
Second, because the cost of genetic sequencing has fallen, personalized medicine is becoming a reality. “The data we’re compiling from genomics and the things that we’re learning are huge,” Mary Meeker, a tech investor from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, remarked. More than 1 million people have had their DNA analyzed by outfits like 23andMe and Ancestry. “We are all different … whether it’s in understanding what your medical conditions may be, what you may pass on or the drugs you can or cannot take.”
Finally, advances in computing have made artificial intelligence capable of finding treatments for complicated illnesses. For example, in the case of a Japanese woman with a rare form of leukemia, IBM’s Watson found a diagnosis missed by doctors by comparing the woman’s genetic changes to information in 20 million research papers. The entire process took 10 minutes.
Still, it’s difficult to innovate in health tech. To start, the cost of failure is unlike that in any other industry. When Uber screws up, riders get frustrated. When medical companies screw up, patients can die. Silicon Valley’s “fail fast” ethos is the antithesis of “first, do no harm.”
Navigating regulations constitutes another choke point. Zenefits, a startup that offered complete cloud-based HR for small businesses, nearly collapsed after it tried to get around the licensing procedure to sell insurance in each state.
“Good market design together with the right regulatory frameworks can set the stage for a healthcare platform market revolution,” said ZEITGUIDE friend and co-author of “Platform Revolution,” Marshall Van Alstyne. “The institutions that own the most critical patient data will increasingly attract an ecosystem of other healthcare providers.”
Question is, will they be insurers like Aetna—or tech companies like Apple?
Scientists have made such remarkable advances in biomedicine that we’re starting to realistically ask, “Should we not just treat disease, but enhance humans’ mental and physical capabilities?” and “Should we edit our children’s genes?”
Even the blood in our veins—and for that matter, our veins themselves—may get an upgrade. A team of scientists at the University of Minnesota created synthetic arteries that can grow after they’re implanted. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service will be testing lab-grown blood for transfusions in 2017.
Brain-machine interfaces, or brain chips, are being developed to bypass damaged nerves in paralysis patients. Since doctors from Battelle Memorial Institute implanted a brain chip in one Ohio patient’s head, this man has learned to control an electronic sleeve that moves his arm and hand. He can now play Guitar Hero—though only in a lab setting.
An innovative technique for editing genes, called CRISPR, is leading to new ways to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases. But this technology is also raising the prospect of altering embryonic DNA to eliminate certain inherited diseases. We need to tread with extreme caution, maintains geneticist J. Craig Venter, one of the first scientists to sequence the human genome. We just don’t know how switching genes on or off will affect the human body over time. “Genes and proteins rarely have a single function in the genome, and we know of many cases in experimental animals where changing a ‘known function’ of a gene results in development surprises.”
The population at large has its own reasons for concern. According to a Pew Research Center public survey, a majority of Americans say biomedical enhancements “could exacerbate the divide between haves and have-nots.” In general, the public is so wary about these enhancements that most say they would not want them in their brains and blood (66% and 63%, respectively), though they’re more divided when it comes to gene editing to help prevent diseases in their babies.
Opioid drug overdoses kill over 30,000 Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s approaching the annual death toll from car accidents and gunshots.
This addiction and overdose crisis grew out of an era of aggressive prescribing. Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, launched a highly effective marketing plan in the 1990s, touting it as a 12-hour painkiller—even though it wore off early for many patients in drug trials. When it does wear off, as the Los Angeles Times noted in an investigative report, “patients can experience excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug.” Vox reported that by 2012, U.S. physicians were writing 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers a year, equivalent to one bottle of pills for every adult in the country.
When prescription drugs like OxyContin became unavailable, though, users didn’t just give up opioids. “You make their drug harder to get, they don’t just stop taking drugs,” Theodore J. Cicero, a top opioid researcher at Washington University, told Rolling Stone. “They switch to something else. Heroin has turned out to be a very inexpensive, readily accessible alternative.”
This epidemic has struck middle-aged, middle-class whites particularly hard. Opioid overdoses have contributed substantially to a rise in mortality rates among white Americans age 45 to 54—a phenomenon that is rare in advanced societies outside war- time, as The New Yorker observed.
The FDA has now mandated specific addiction warning labels on opioid drugs. State lawmakers in New York, Maryland and California, along with city officials in Seattle, San Francisco and Ithaca, New York, have considered opening supervised drug-injection sites to reduce deadly heroin overdoses.
Other alternatives may come from pharma startups developing non-addictive painkillers. Most agree that more addiction treatment options and clinics are needed. And of course, some are advocating for the use of medical marijuana as an option.
It likely will take all that and more to turn the tide. As Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) wrote in a CNN opinion piece, “As we’ve sought out that silver bullet to solve this unique problem, the sad reality is that the scope of the problem has only grown—and now we’re losing 78 people per day to this senseless and preventable epidemic.”
Even as Americans may be overprescribed, others throughout the world lack access to needed medications.
The crux of the issue is the patents that protect drugs, giving pharmaceutical companies incredible control over pricing and distribution. Not until patents expire do generic versions come into the market to bring prices down. But before that happens, prices may increase precipitously, as was the case in 2016 with EpiPen. The price of this allergic-reaction antidote shot up 400% ahead of an anticipated generic version. (Generic drugmakers, for their part, have been accused of taking payoffs and of price collusion.)
In the world’s poorest countries, early generic drugs are sometimes granted “voluntary licenses” from drugmakers. The UN has called on drugmakers to expand this practice to middle-income countries, where most of the world’s poor do in fact live. Drug makers, however, have been steadfast in their opposition to any efforts to restrict the patent system.
Without big financial incentives, drugmakers argue, many new medications would never be developed at all. Critics, on the other hand, question how much drug revenue goes to innovation versus marketing and executive salaries, or to shareholders.
“We cannot leave people’s health just to the market,” remarked Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, who served on the UN High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines.
“There are people who are not reached by markets, people whose health will never serve a profit motive. They too have a right to health.”
In an effort to earn good will, some pharmaceutical companies do offer free drugs to aid organizations—but Doctors Without Borders notably turned away a significant number of pneumonia vaccines, saying it didn’t want to be a party to Pfizer’s PR games any longer.
Providing the pneumonia vaccine for free, noted Jason Cone, executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the U.S., gives pharmaceutical corporations justification for keeping prices high. Instead, he has written, drugmakers should offer the vaccine at a reduced price for all humanitarian organizations and developing countries.
Beyond radiation and chemotherapy, doctors have a new weapon for combating certain cancers: the immune system, bolstered by vaccines, antibody therapies and drugs. Hundreds of clinical trials are underway, while the FDA has already approved multiple immunotherapy drugs and vaccines. Sean Parker is putting $250 million into the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, an initiative made up of some the country’s top cancer research institutes, in hopes of financing the “hack” to cancer. He’s betting that we can advance such treatments to become a first course, rather than a last resort after other options fail.
It used to be that we bragged about how little sleep we could run on. Now, with notables such as Arianna Huffington espousing the merits of getting a full night’s rest and promoting greater awareness of the health benefits of sleep, and with some businesses even giving sleep bonuses, all the cool kids are in bed by 10 p.m.
In Korea, telecom giant KT developed a TV set-top box that will text a notification to a designated number when the TV is turned on. Why? It’s a way of monitoring elderly relatives living alone in rural areas. If the TV is off for more than 24 hours, the box sends an alert to check on the elder. As discussed with ZEITGUIDE friend Anita Gupta, vice-chair at Drexel University College of Medicine, could other home devices—like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home—do the same here?
According to figures from the Surgeon General’s office, only 17% of Americans are considered to have optimal mental health. Something is evidently off in our heads, and scientists part of an emerging field called Nutritional Psychology are trying to sort out how much of that has to do with what we stuff into our mouths. Some tips? Load up on fish packed with omega-3 fatty acids, and make sure to boost your gut microbiome using fermented foods, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and other sources of fiber.
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, but are now gaining in popularity in the West for their reported stress-reducing and anti-aging effects. Examples include items like Ashwagandha, Cordyceps, Rhodiola, Schisandra, Licorice root and Astragalus. If you haven’t encountered them already, you will be seeing them everywhere, added to everything from soups to smoothies to face creams. Thanks again to ZEITGUIDE friend Lisa Levine, certified life and health coach and owner of Audacious Health & Wellness, for alerting us to this trend.
More than 2 million Americans every year are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But ethnobotany, the study of how indigenous peoples use plants for medicinal and other purposes, could offer some solutions. Already the field has yielded promising results, such as an extract of Brazilian peppertree berries that helps treat MRSA. But will the Food and Drug Administration and an apathetic-to-hostile pharmaceutical industry make the most of such discoveries?
Our CEO Brad Grossman has been taking a spoonful of the curry-colored spice turmeric with honey to quell exacerbating coughs ever since a friend from India suggested that it was better than cough syrup. This yellow spice, taken from the stem of a plant indigenous to India, has become “the buzz word in the health world,” according to co-owner Ryland Engelhart of Los Angeles’ Café Gratitude, which serves turmeric mixed with steamed almond milk or as a shot blended with cayenne pepper. It has proven to be an effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and now it’s being tested for medicinal use against such diseases as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, diabetes and arthritis.
Travel and transportation. The first word evokes adventure and leisure; the second suggests the day-to-day drudgery of commuting.
But the same forces reshaping other parts of our economy—automation, sharing/gig platforms, global warming—are making travel more expensive and stressful (think less elbow room and higher fares) and transport more fun and relaxing.
If you’ve taken an Uber in Pittsburgh dahntahn to watch the Stillers recently, you might have been picked up by a Ford Fusion or Volvo XC90 with no driver—just two Uber engineers in the front seat.
It’s not just Uber, of course, that’s pursuing the dream of driverless cars. Lyft will introduce semi-autonomous cars on fixed city routes in 2017. And it seems like everyone is trying to build their own self-driving vehicle—not just car makers like Ford, General Motors and Tesla, but also tech companies such as Apple, Google and Baidu in China.
The growth of ride-sharing is providing a lot of incentive for companies envisioning a fleet of taxis or ride-share cars that are tireless and available at all hours. “It’s very clear that the first application of autonomous vehicles is in a ride-sharing setting,” GM President Dan Ammann said.
Privately owned versions, though, are coming, with early iterations on the road already. The autopilot controls in Tesla’s Model S—despite some high-profile accidents—work so well that at least one driver was caught napping behind the wheel. Audi is selling “piloted driving” systems on some models that currently have limited speeds. (It’s more like cruise control for traffic jams. Expect highway-speed lane changing and passing by 2020.) Ford, BMW and Volvo also expect to have driverless cars mass-produced for public roads in the next decade. And Elon Musk says a driverless Tesla will complete a cross-country journey by the end of 2017.
Road trips may never be the same. For one thing, with no need to focus on driving, some experts predict a radically redesigned car interior.
Others imagine even bigger changes to the urban landscape. Cars sit parked 96% of the time, after all. If shared driverless cars become the norm in cities, we’ll need far fewer garages and parking lots (and maybe we’ll waste a lot less of our lives looking for parking). Others suggest that self-driving fleets could supplant buses and light rail in car-centric cities like Los Angeles. What will we do with all that space? Parks? Housing?
Still, lots of us remain unconvinced. A Kelley Blue Book study found that 80% of Americans want to keep the option of driving themselves. That goes double for those for whom driving provides a paycheck. We have some 230,000 taxi drivers in the U.S. and more than 3 million truck drivers. And let’s not forget those 600,000 Uber drivers, whom Uber is trying not to need.
Be ready to start paying more for an even worse flying experience.
After two years of lower prices, airlines are starting to see fuel costs increase—and that is digging into profits. Airline workers are negotiating for higher wages too. Technicians at United Airlines expect a pay increase of 28% after four years of contract wrangling. And with competition heating up on transatlantic routes, even big carriers are feeling revenue-squeezed. In addition to cutting costs, airlines also have to start cutting their carbon emissions. A recent UN aviation agreement on international flights set 2020 as the year emissions need to start going down, but few expect progress on fuel efficiency to arrive very quickly. Most airlines are going to have to purchase carbon credits from greener industries or nance carbon offset projects.
Carriers have also set their own goals: to improve average fuel efficiency by 1.5% a year through 2020, and to start replacing fossil fuels with biofuels.
Under a 10-year agreement with a biofuel producer, JetBlue will buy 33 million gallons of biofuel annually to supply some of its flights to and from New York City. And United Airlines is incorporating biofuels into its flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with plans to expand to all flights coming out of L.A.
“There is tremendous determination to make biofuel work, because we just don’t have any alternative,” Julie Felgar, Boeing Co.’s managing director of environmental strategy and integration, told Bloomberg. Electric planes, for instance, don’t yet have the wherewithal; they’re still a pipe dream.
Is Airbnb becoming the Amazon.com of the hospitality industry?
Once a website of crash pads for the cash-strapped traveler, Airbnb now claims 2 million property listings in 191 countries. It booked 80 million guests in 2016, and its customer base of Chinese overseas travelers grew by 700% in 2015. The company is now valued at $30 billion—more than Marriott or Hilton.
Knowing it can’t compete with hotels in turndown service, this homestay network has put its focus elsewhere. “We think travel should be magical and easy,” says ZEITGUIDE friend and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. “The magic is in the people. It’s all about immersing in local communities.”
To that end, the company launched Trips, a platform for users to not only book local accommodations, but also access local experiences and services as well. Guests can now, for example, get guidebooks written by local hosts and dedicated users on what to see and enjoy in a city. Airbnb also recently acquired Spain-based startup Trip4real, which books tours and other activities led by local Joes—or Jeans or Johanns—in European cities. Think touring the best record shops in Berlin, or the chocolatiers of Paris.
Business travelers are starting to embrace the site, too, citing a desire for non-bedroom space where they can collaborate with co-workers as well as have those home comforts—a kitchen and laundry room. Business travelers who usually stay four days at a hotel are now booking six nights through Airbnb.
Airbnb isn’t stopping there: it has created an internal innovation studio, Samara, to explore new ideas and products. Its first foray—a communal living/community space designed to attract visitors to rural Japan—got plenty of attention. This had a lot of observers wondering: won’t Airbnb just start building its own listings, a.k.a. hotels?
In fact, could tightening regulations in a number of major cities, including New York and New Orleans, make such a strategy necessary?
Hotels, for their part, are responding with less cookie-cutter lodging. Why should a stay in New Orleans be practically identical to one in Chicago?
Marriott has plans to become design-driven, innovative, sophisticated and localized. In its experimental Charlotte City Center hotel, for instance, this hotelier has placed a focus on communal spaces, local products and on-demand services such as Neflix.
The DIY aspect of Airbnb (“please put the sheets in the washing machine before you go …”) is also creating an opening for hotels to distinguish themselves with a high level of personal service. Thompson Hotels, a boutique chain, advocates living like a local at its three hotels in New York—but with plenty of pampering. Who needs Yelp or Uber when you’ve got doormen and concierges?
Expedia, the online travel-booking platform, has also responded to the Airbnb onslaught, purchasing Airbnb’s closest competitor, HomeAway. So now in addition to booking flights, car rentals, cruises, and hotels, Expedia users can book privately owned vacation properties.
Bikeshares aren’t just for the cities you’d expect to find them in. Even Atlanta, a symbol of urban sprawl, has implemented a bikeshare program. “In Chicago, rides have increased by 70% from March 2015 to March 2016, in New York by 110%, in Columbus, Ohio, by 66%,” says Jay Walder, CEO of Motivate, the biggest bikeshare company in the U.S.
The best cities to find good wine include New York, Chicago and Paris, but a new one has emerged in a town with a population of 88,000: Asheville, N.C. Its only local winery, Biltmore Estate, produces 150,000 cases a year. Prices in local wine shops are typically less than half of those in New York.
Surfing has long been associated with warm, tropical areas, but thanks to new technological developments, more and more surfers are riding waves in the freezing waters around Alaska and Norway. New flexible, warm and affordable wetsuits mean surfers can ride cold waves longer and more comfortably. They can also now use Google Maps to locate prime undiscovered surf spots–to the annoyance of some locals.
Startups such as AirHelp, Flightright, EUclaim and Gate28 are helping passengers who got delayed or bumped off flights to navigate the compensation claim process—particularly in the EU, where even delayed flights are supposed to be reimbursed. AirHelp, for example, files its claims after looking through passengers’ emails to compare three years of booking information against takeoff and landing times. The U.S. isn’t so generous in its protections, but passengers can get up to $1,350 for being bumped off an oversold flight.
By 2020, China is expected to be the world’s largest market for theme parks and resorts. Shanghai Disney opened in mid-2016 and is competing with Chinese firm Wanda Group there. But Wanda has plans to build as many as 20 other parks across China in the coming years. Competition is so intense that Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin has stated that his goal is to ensure Disney will not be profitable in this business segment in China.
ZEITGUIDE friend and travel journalist Paula Froelich tuned us in to this trend. Not only are women traveling more, they’re also striking out on their own in search of adventure experiences. One survey of 500 American women found that in 2014, 65% said they were traveling without a partner, and 55% said they were more likely to travel alone now than they were five years before.
Las Vegas gave birth to the hotel-in-a-hotel model more than a decade ago, but the idea is just starting to take off elsewhere. Nobu Hospitality (as in celeb chef Nobu Matsuhisa) carved out its first space at Caesars Palace in 2013, and has now opened the 206-room Nobu Hotel Miami Beach inside the Eden Roc Miami Beach. In Los Angeles’ up-and-coming Koreatown, the Walker Inn has a small set of rooms within the Normandie Hotel. Experts say space-sharing offers guests more choices and allows for small-scale experimentation. And besides, adding more lifestyle while cutting down on sterile spaces is a bit of a hedge against Airbnb.
Adventure travel is evolving—from mountain climbing and river rafting into more personal boundary-pushing territory, says ZEITGUIDE friend Nathan Lump, Editorial Director of Time Inc.’s Lifestyle Group and EIC of Travel + Leisure. “The idea [is] pushing boundaries, whether that’s sailing for days in order to swim with whale sharks in the South Pacific, or braving frigid temperatures in Scandinavia to see the Northern Lights or going into a month-long yoga practice in India,” Lump says. “There’s an increased willingness to forego traditional luxury in order to have the luxury of unique experiences and personal accomplishment.”
Whether it’s fear of the Zika epidemic in Brazil or the terrorist attacks in Europe, a sense of safety will influence destination choices in the coming years. Nathan Lump says, for instance, “This is the year when people will go to Namibia rather than Egypt, Portugal rather than France, Nicaragua rather than the Caribbean Islands.” Many of our ZEITGUIDE friends have mentioned Switzerland as an option in particular. There are no mosquitoes on the ski slopes.
The number of Chinese traveling internationally in the first half of 2016 reached 59 million. And travel is particularly common during Golden Week, a seven-day national holiday, because “China’s president [Xi Jinping] encourages people to take vacations,” according to ZEITGUIDE friend and CEO of Attract China David Becker. Some 6 million Chinese travelled abroad this one week alone. And they’re not just vacationing, they’re also investing billions in the hotels they stay in—some $12 billion in U.S. hotels alone since 2010.
If your idea of suitcase innovation is double spinner wheels, think again. Startups Away, Bluesmart, Raden and Planet Traveler are smartening suitcases up with power banks, speaker phones, no-lift scales, location trackers and biometric fingerprint locks. Combating the lost luggage syndrome, Rimowa’s got digital display screens that replace airline barcode tags. And industry leader Samsonite is developing competitively priced Track&Go, a luggage finder using Google’s Eddystone EID-beacons and an app that displays the location of a suitcase within 76 yards. If it’s moved, a location notification is automatically sent to your cell phone.
|Rep. Hal Rogers|
|J. Craig Venter|
|Jocelyn K. Glei*|
|John Box Bricker*|
|Kerry James Marshall|
|Lauren J. Kennedy*|
|Marshall Van Alstyne*|
|President Barack Obama|
|Sangeet Paul Choudary*|
|The Guerrilla Girls|
|Theodore J. Cicero|
A huge THANK YOU to my amazing team that brings our find, filter and focus process to life for our clients and in this ZEITGUIDE:
Ralph Robinson, our head of research and strategy, has taken many hours out of his day-to-day responsibilities to make sure ZEITGUIDE 2017 features all the most important insights we’ve gleaned throughout the year.
Dawit Habtemariam, our cultural associate, has made sure we continue to stay up-to-date on such issues as technology and emerging markets.
Catherine Walsh, our office manager, keeps us all on point.
Sean Jaques has managed all of our tech needs since our first ZEITGUIDE.
Robin Rauzi has been editing the ZEITGUIDE since its inception.
Kristofer Porter has joined us for the fourth year in a row art directing, designing and illustrating the ZEITGUIDE.
Linda Dyett provided her copy editing expertise.
A great many thanks as well to all of our friends and industry experts who gave us exclusive insights for this year’s ZEITGUIDE. And a special shoutout to Scott Grossman, Jay Strell, Charles Runnette and Elana Rubinfeld.
And of course, thank you to our tremendous audience and their passion for constantly learning.
Here’s to another adventurous, inspiring and prolific year in 2017!
Creator, Founder & CEO, ZEITGUIDE